• ESAE

Membership retention: Membership loss due to travel restrictions

45 Association Professionals worked together in groups, addressing some major retention challenges Associations might be facing in today’s disruptive environment. These sessions took place as part of our April 2021 event “How to avoid a membership retention crisis?”. The case studies, developed by ESAE, allowed for participants to share insights and expertise to develop potential solutions together.



Case: International Trade Association in the Youth Travel sector


Membership: Small international Trade Association with about 170 members worldwide. Members are mostly SMEs handling Youth Travel and Cultural Exchange Programs.

Staff: One managing director doing everything. No big overhead costs.

Finances: Revenue of €100.000 per year. Sufficient reserves to keep the organization running for one year. 95% of income from membership.


Case study scenario


The Association is losing members because of Brexit and travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In an attempt to retain members until they can do business again, and in hope to attract new members with low entry cost, the membership fee was reduced by 50%. At the moment, the Association is focusing on lobbying governments to open borders and in supporting activities at national level, while at the same time offering more digital services to members to keep them as part of the community. An increase in social media activities has been achieved with the help of an AI-powered social media system.


Tips from the ESAE community


The Association should identify what the needs of its members are today, and try to respond to them. In times of crisis, members could potentially benefit greatly from getting the chance to exchange best practices and from finding new ways of collaboration between each other. Members might be suffering from substantial revenue losses because of travel restrictions. The role of the Association here is to help identify sources of financial support for its members. An assessment of needs would be useful to a) identify the products and services that really matter, as well as b) validate that everything the Association is currently doing is adding value and fulfilling expectations.


On the other hand, in a landscape that is probably going to change in the long run, this could be the chance for the Association to prepare itself for the post-pandemic environment, especially through further development in the technological field. The membership fee reduction should be avoided if possible, as it might, in the future, be difficult to reinstate the previous membership levels. An alternative to the reduction could be to offer a grace period for members.


Many thanks to Patricia Brunner and Angela Guillemet for skillfully moderating the workshop and to our participants for their excellent contributions. ESAE members have received a full post-event report with all key takeaways summarized, together with a recording of the plenary session. Check out our Knowledge Library for more useful material and join ESAE to be part of the dialogue!