From the Trump administration’s “America First” agenda to new medical meeting regulations, a number of issues are being blamed for keeping international doctors from attending medical meetings in the United States. At the same time, the decrease in international travel to the U.S. overall may have begun to spill into the events industry. According to Convene’s just-released Meetings Market Survey, on average, 6 percent of registered attendees at respondents’ largest events last year were international vs. nearly 8 percent in 2017. Combine those factors with political turmoil in the U.S. and abroad with tighter restrictions and skyrocketing costs, and, experts say, it makes sense that some medical meetings are losing a significant portion of their audience.
“The U.S. continued to lose market share last year as international travel expanded 6 percent globally across all world regions,” Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, previously told Convene. He noted that there is no direct correlation between a decline in international tourists and international conference attendees. But, he added the drop “reinforces our continued concern that global antipathy towards ‘America First’ rhetoric and policy is affecting international travel to the U.S.”
Most international doctors’ attendance to U.S. medical meetings is sponsored by pharmaceutical and medical technology companies. However, MedTech Europe and APACMed’s recent medical meeting requirements are making it more difficult for these organizations to send medical professionals. If a U.S. medical meeting doesn’t meet their requirements, which include limits on cities, hotels, and entertainment options, as well as the quality of a group’s medical program, then the delegates will not be sponsored and cannot attend.
Furthermore, the per person cost of attendance has become a major concern. Some countries across Europe have implemented their own legislation regulating the amount that can be spent sponsoring a doctor, including capping daily hotel rates as low as 250 euros (about $280), including taxes and breakfast, according to Angel Napolitano, ABTS’ executive vice president of client relations. In many popular U.S. cities, there are few hotels within the event room block that can meet these expectations. Therefore, doctors from those countries must either book outside the official housing block (and perhaps far from the convention) or forgo attending the meeting entirely.
“We have had sponsors complain that they can sponsor only 30 doctors to go to a meeting on a specific specialty in the United States, and, for the same amount of money, sponsor 100 doctors to go to a meeting in Europe,” Napolitano says. “This is made more difficult by the globalization of education. The same information, and even the same speakers, are present at both American and European competing specialty meetings.”
Adding to the high costs are the fact that U.S. hotel rates have been increasing exponentially — major cities like San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C. have seen significant hikes — and travel expenses are expected to increase this year. This makes it more difficult for companies to sponsor doctors to attend medical meetings in major U.S. cities. “This could be a great opportunity for lesser-known cities within the U.S.,” Napolitano says. “A doctor that has attended five medical meetings in San Francisco may jump at the chance to see Denver instead.”
There are also higher meeting costs, not only of base rates but for amenities (San Francisco’s Parc 55 hotel made headlines for charging a health-care event $170 for a gallon of coffee), and registration costs. “We already have a major sponsor that announced a 30-percent reduction in participation across the board, domestic and international attendance, and consequentially exhibit space, for a conference taking place in 2019 in San Francisco,” Napolitano says. “Likewise, other sponsors with limited budgets have completely withdrawn their participation from this meeting this year.”
Because of this, ABTS Convention Services, which specializes in services for medical meetings, warns of a major loss for U.S. medical education “not only monetary-, but education- and network-wise if we don’t address the issues keeping international attendees away,” Napolitano says.