What’s Behind PCMA CL24’s Record Attendance?

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PCMACL24PCMA’s Convening Leaders (PCMA CL24) annual conference drew more than 4,000 in-person attendees to San Diego, with another 700 joining virtually. What’s the draw? Hint: having Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton on the agenda didn’t hurt.

The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Convening Leaders annual conference set a new attendance record, according to PCMA President and CEO Sherrif Karamat. He opened the event, held Jan. 7-10 at the San Diego Convention Center, by announcing that almost 5,000 people had registered to attend CL24, including 4,200 in-person registrants and another 700 or so who tuned in online. Altogether, registrants — 47% of whom were planners, 47% of whom were suppliers, with the rest being students and others — hailed from 40 countries.

“CL 2024 is our record attendance of all time,” he said, adding that this is a continuation of a growth trend PCMA has seen at its other recent events. Two of its 2023 events, EduCon and the CEMA Summit at Convening EMEA, also set record participation records, Karamat said. He credited the realization of the importance of making face-to-face connections during COVID shutdowns for the post-pandemic bounce PCMA and other business event organizers are experiencing.

“The world discovered that, more than ever, we need face-to-face connections, and big business events truly are now proliferating,” Karamat said. To take advantage of the surging appetite for meeting in person, he also announced that PCMA is launching a Sustainability and Climate Summit Oct. 2-3 in Barcelona, Spain, in partnership with the Strategic Alliance of the National Convention Bureaux of Europe, which has 29 member nations. In Q2 of 2025, PCMA also plans to launch a new event for the Latin American market, Convening Latin, which will be held in Bogota, Colombia.

Part of the draw for CL24 likely was the destination, sunny San Diego, which has become so popular a meeting and event locale that it is having to find new and creative ways to accommodate its largest groups, such as Comi-Con International, which pulled in 150,000 attendees despite the actor and writer strikes happening last summer when it was held.

Keynoters President Bill Clinton and 67th Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held a long-ranging fireside discussion moderated by CL24 emcee Holly Ransom
Keynoters President Bill Clinton and 67th Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held a long-ranging fireside discussion moderated by CL24 emcee Holly Ransom

Many, but not all, attendees — some said they chose not to attend because they didn’t think having political leaders speak during an election year — also were excited by the keynote headliners, notably President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who served as the 67th Secretary of State. Despite long lines to check bags and get through security and into the ballroom, participants listened raptly to the two political powerhouses as they held a long-ranging fireside discussion moderated by CL24 emcee Holly Ransom. The Clintons candidly discussed everything from the power of in-person meetings to combat today’s polarized and divisive social and political environment, to the potential powers and dangers of artificial intelligence (AI), to the need to choose democracy over victim-based ideologies and autocracy, to the double-standards women still face in the working realm.

“Women have to be perfect, while men just have to be men,” Rodham Clinton said to applause.

To help change that — at least in the business events industry, Karamat and Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of Australia’s BESydney, outlined a new joint survey of women in the meetings and events industry. Not surprisingly, the survey found that the industry, which is 70% female worldwide and 85% female in the U.S., still only has about 20% of its CEO, board chairs and other C-level positions held by women.

“The World Economic Forum is saying it’s going to take us 131 years for gender parity—we can’t wait that long. We can do something now,” Lewis-Smith said while announcing the survey from the CL24 stage. “I’d love to think 30% women CEOs and chairing boards by 2030 is a reasonable target.”

AI was on the agenda in more than that just the Clinton keynote as well. PCMA, which recently partnered with Gevme to launch an events-specific generative AI called SPARK, announced that the software program already has signed up more than 5,000 business event organizers in 40-plus countries. SPARK currently can tackle more than 100 business-event–related tasks, and developers are working now on expanding capabilities to handling on-site, real-time ways to augment the attendee experience, said Gevme founder and CEO Veemal Gungadin.

One of these is an AI concierge that uses data on the event, the destination and the venue to answer attendee questions. This functionality was made available on the PCMA mobile app used at CL24. Another potentially useful function SPARK performed at CL24 generated event session takeaways, available in different languages in real time, something that attendees could access using a QR code.

The event, which kicked off with a networking reception at San Diego’s iconic SeaWorld, also featured a bustling supplier area called The District, which featured a plethora of interesting activations, from aura reading at the Caesars Entertainment booth to Visit Pittsburgh’s popular AI photo booth, which melded attendee facial photos with a series of superhero figures and backgrounds sure to show up on LinkedIn and Facebook profiles in the near future.

The closing reception was held at one of San Diego’s latest event venues, the Rady Shell at Jacob’s Park, complete with a drone show, a Boyz II Men concert and fireworks. After a series of breakout sessions on the final morning, “Big Bang Theory” actor and former Jeopardy guest host Mayim Bialik closed out the event with a talk on how the path to professional fulfillment starts with taking care of your mental health.

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