ICCA has today published its country and city rankings by the estimated total number of participants as part of its public abstract of the 2018 Statistics Report, offering an alternative perspective on the growth of the association meetings market. In a continuation of annual trends in 2017, Barcelona and U.S.A. take the top spots these rankings.

The global meetings industry trade association calculates the estimated total number of participants by multiplying the average number of participants per meeting (of which the participant number is known to ICCA) by the total number of meetings in the same destination.

Consequently, when analysing destinations based on the estimated total number of participants instead of the number of meetings, the rankings can present different results.

2018 City rankings: Barcelona hosts most delegates despite fewer number of meetings

In 2018, Barcelona becomes the number one city by the estimated total number of participants, despite the fact that the destination hosted 49 events less than Paris, the number one city by the number of meetings. Therefore, it can be concluded that Barcelona hosted fewer but larger events. Paris and Vienna, respectively first and second in the ranking by the number of meetings, are second and third in this particular ranking. Berlin takes fifth place to coincide with their ranking by the number of meetings.

One particular example that demonstrates how the number of participants presents a differing view of the market comes from Munich. In 2018, the city, which comes in at 35th place by number of meetings, jumps from 87th in 2017 to fourth place in 2018 by an estimated total of participants – an impressive 93,444. This is due to the fact the city hosted two major medical conferences in 2018: the Congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) with 32,858 participants, and the Congress of the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) with 27,700 participants.

Rank City2018
7Toronto, ON84,600

2018 Country/Territory rankings: U.S.A. remains in the top spot

The U.S.A. remains in the top country spot with an estimated total of 384,035 participants hosted in 2018. Per this ranking, Spain and Germany swap places compared to the rankings by number of meetings, with Spain in second place and Germany in third. France also remains in fourth, as with the ranking by number of meetings.

Canada, 10th in the ranking by number of meetings, enters the top 5 by the estimated total number of participants, jumping from 168,000 to 203,000 participants in 2018, at an increase of 20% compared to 2017.

Rank Country/Territory2018
6United Kingdom181,149

Global association meeting trends

According to ICCA Statistics released in 2013 to mark the 50-year growth of the association sector, between 1963 and 2013, the number of international association meetings doubled every 10 years. ICCA’s latest industry report on the 55-year growth of the international association meetings market confirmed that this exponential growth trend has now slowly transcended into a more mature, yet still solid, growth pattern between 2013 and 2017. The 2018 figures seem to confirm this trend.

ICCA’s statistics provide an extensive picture of how the association meetings sector is continuing to diversify, especially in terms of regional rotation area and regional popularity for hosting business events. In keeping with tradition, Europe remains by far the most popular region for association meetings, but Asia-Pacific and the Middle East are rapidly increasing their share of the market.

Unsurprisingly, Medical Science (16.9%), Technology (14.2%) and Science (13.5%) are the three most popular international association meeting topics. September remains the most popular month for organising international association meetings. In another strong indication of healthy market growth, the average total expenditure at all international meetings in the ICCA Association Database has increased by a promising 4% in 2018, from 10.6 billion EUR in 2017 to over 11 billion EUR in 2018.

Association meetings facing new challenges

Senthil Gopinath

Senthil Gopinath, ICCA Chief Executive Officer, said: “Our industry is facing challenges from saturation, consolidation and new entrants, to the erosion of traditional business models and fragmentation. There are also great opportunities, including market growth, disruptive innovation, digitisation, new players, fewer market barriers, new audiences, and new scalable models. Alongside all these developments, the number of events is continuing to grow exponentially.”

“The most respected global comparison of destination performance in attracting international meetings, our annual statistics reports are highly anticipated by the meetings industry. They continue to provide a unique overview which encompasses – and simultaneously celebrates – the global growth of association meetings, a sector which is only set to soar in strength, influence and progress.”


Whilst the most comprehensive and highly-respected global destination performance indicator for the association sector, ICCA rankings are often mistakenly perceived as the destination rankings for the meetings industry as a whole, even though they only represent a niche market segment. Only those meetings that meet ICCA’s stringent assessment criteria – rotating between at least three countries, have a proven attendance of at least 50 participants, and are held on a regular basis – are recorded within the global association’s annual statistics.

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