New Martiz Study Offers Strategies for Managing Early-Bird and Last-Minute Event Registrations

May 2, 2024

Let’s start with this statistic: On average in 2023, 45% of conference attendees delayed registering until four weeks or less before an event.

That’s among the eye-popping findings in a new Registrations Insights Report from experience design company Maritz, the result of a deep dive into more than 360,000 attendee registrations across 30 trade shows over the past few years.

The report looks at registration pacing, which attendees are most likely to register late and why, and how to adapt to this changing attendee behavior. Significantly, the authors also work to reframe the discussion around late-bookers: While they might be a headache for organizers, there are several reasons they’re especially valuable.

Registration Timing

So, when do attendees register? According to 2023 show data, Maritz reports this breakdown:

More than four weeks out: 55%
Four weeks out: 9%
Three weeks out: 7%
Two weeks out: 7%
One week out: 13%
Onsite: 9%

Late registrants are much more likely to be those who live within driving distance of the event or those attending the show for the first time. The researchers also found variations by industry. Food and restaurant conferences are one example of a late-registering sector, with 54% of attendees signing up within four weeks of the show compared to the overall average of 45%. 

In comparison, industry sectors whose attendees the report describes as “rule followers” tend to commit to an event on the early side. For example, only 29% of medical and healthcare conference attendees typically register late.

The findings underscore the point that tracking audience demographics and an industry’s persona are key to predicting and preparing for an event’s registration patterns. Also, planners need to factor in whether the event location will encourage drive-in attendance. 

Overall, the destinations with the highest and lowest percentage of late registrations, according to Maritz, are Nashville (81%) and Minneapolis (22%). 

Early Birds Aren’t Great Either

While late registrants cause havoc for events that need to fill their room blocks by the contracted cutoff date, allocate session-room space, coordinate F&B and book transportation, the Maritz research also reveals an upside to late registrants: They’re a show’s big spenders.

Over and above registration fees, the outlay for ancillary show offerings, such as add-on sessions and social events, tends to be higher the later a person registers. 

When Maritz correlated ancillary spending with registration date, the pattern suggests that discounts and other offers convention organizers put on the table to drive early-bird registrations might actually be costing them revenue:

Registration Date and Ancillary Spending:

Within 30 days: $338
31-60 days out: $370
61-90 days out: $301
91-120 days out: $281
More than 120 days out: $278

The report has several theories to explain the findings:

• Conference organizers often open early-bird registration before the website has all the show offerings available—and once attendees register, they’re unlikely to come back.
• Registrants who take advantage of early-bird rates might be price sensitive and therefore don’t have the budget for add-ons.
• The report found that early registrants are much more likely to be repeat attendees. 

And repeat attendees might be “going on autopilot” and not as motivated to fully embrace the show.

For conference organizers, the challenge is to shift the very-late bookers and the very-early bookers to a more ideal middle ground. The report concludes with ideas for optimizing pricing and marketing to achieve that, and with advice on communicating more openly with suppliers and destination bureaus about registration patterns so they better understand a planner’s room-block requests. Read the full report here.

This article was originally published in our sister publication, MeetingsNet. To read it, go here.


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