RSNA braces for dip in attendance due to travel and economic concerns

November 21, 2001

New York plane crash adds to jittersThe RSNA has recorded successively increasing attendance figures for its annual meetings since 1998, but this year could be an exception.Attendance next week will be down, especially among

New York plane crash adds to jitters

The RSNA has recorded successively increasing attendance figures for its annual meetings since 1998, but this year could be an exception.

Attendance next week will be down, especially among overseas visitors. In Europe, vendors of contrast media have traditionally picked up the tab for customers’ trips to the meeting. This year, however, the shrinking global economy has made companies reluctant to assume those costs, and this is having a ripple effect on vendors.

Expectations of reduced attendance have caused some companies to cut back on the number of staff traveling to the meeting. Anecdotal evidence abounds about companies pulling back to conserve budgets, including at least one remark-not for attribution-that the situation presents an opportunity to save money on hospitality expenses.

Travel concerns and the rocky economic situation have substantially affected the meeting, according to the RSNA. The organization reports overall preregistration is down 7%. Based on last year’s attendance of 59,794, about 4200 fewer people will likely attend the meeting this year. This estimated decline is supported by reports of hotel vacancies during the week of the RSNA meeting and room rates lower than those available six months ago, including those obtained through discount travel services.

The cutbacks are at least partly the result of the continuing terrorist threat and resultant travel downturn. Fears were heightened on Nov. 12 by the American Airlines crash that killed 265 people. The extraordinary circumstances created by the Sept. 11 attacks led to rumors in Europe and the Pacific Rim that the RSNA meeting would be canceled this year. RSNA officials responded in late October with emphatic statements to the contrary.

Canceling the meeting was never an option, according to Dr. Jerry P. Petasnick, RSNA president. Doing so would hamstring the society, he said, and would serve no purpose.

“We’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from people around the world who support the meeting,” he said. “They realize they don’t live in a vacuum and what happened in the U.S. could happen anywhere.”

The RSNA assured society members by e-mail that proper security measures have been taken by the RSNA staff, McCormick Place personnel, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, and the city of Chicago. The society has also made an effort to maintain the quality of the information provided to meeting attendees. Few of the invited speakers who give refresher courses have withdrawn, for example.

“In the cases of cancellations, we’ve assigned alternates,” Petasnick said. “We feel there won’t be a very significant impact on the meeting.”

The number of technical exhibits is slightly lower this year than last, but the difference is negligible: 630 versus 653, according to the RSNA. The reduction may not be evident on the floor, as the technical exhibits will occupy the same 450,000 square feet as last year.

Whatever impact the RSNA experiences from travel-shy members of the imaging community might eventually benefit local and regional conferences, which generally have suffered from the RSNA meeting’s increasing popularity. The European Congress of Radiology in March could be among the beneficiaries, possibly attracting more than its usual number of participants. Alternatively, those who would otherwise attend professional meetings might prefer a virtual experience, calling up summaries or attending “live” presentations on the Web.