IMEX America: Events return amid a shifting market

Highlights from the three-day event, and trends for 2022.

Delegates entering the IMEX America show floor.
Delegates entering the IMEX America show floor.

Hailed as the 'reunion' of the global events industry, IMEX America wrapped up on 11 November with more than 3,300 buyers and 2,200 exhibitors in attendance, with Chairman Ray Bloom and CEO Carina Bauer describing the three-day event at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas as a signal that international business events are "back in business".

Apart from a full suite of Covid-safe measures, the event included more than 200 education sessions; a new People & Planet Village with a ‘misfit’ fruit and vegetable juice bar plus sustainability sessions; a Tech Therapy Area; and a daily wellbeing programme which featured the traditional #IMEXrun on Wednesday, 10 November.

The enthusiasm of thousands at the 10th edition of IMEX America demonstrated that meeting professionals needed to reconnect. But, after nearly two years of upheaval, some meeting professionals have expressed the need for thoughtful reflection — and gradual reinvention — rather than a rush back to business as usual.

This year's new People & Planet Village had attendees building Luna's Clubhouse from scratch.
This year's new People & Planet Village had attendees building Luna's Clubhouse from scratch.

We should be asking ourselves, “How has our collective experience changed us?” suggested Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. “We will be evolving over the next few years. What does the next chapter look like? The story is still being told.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint “trends” at a time like this, said Karamat, because significant change is slow-moving. “We’ve shifted from talk of climate change to climate crisis, and from resisting digitisation to hyper-digitisation because we couldn’t meet any other way.” Effects of the pandemic experience, likewise, will unfold gradually.

Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of PCMA; Michael Massari, chief sales officer of Caesars Entertainment; and Steve Enselein, senior vice president of events at Hyatt.
Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of PCMA; Michael Massari, chief sales officer of Caesars Entertainment; and Steve Enselein, senior vice president of events at Hyatt.

More automated services

That sentiment was echoed by Steve Enselein, senior vice president of events for Hyatt Hotels Corp.: “If anyone thinks that we're going back to 2019 — it's not going to happen.”

Supply-chain issues will linger, causing rising costs, which in turn affect choices for our meetings, such as food and beverage. But perhaps the biggest shift at hotels, he said, will result from staffing shortages. “We're going to rely more on technology to help simplify and make things more automated,” said Enselein, “like the check-in process, how you order services, how you ask for things".

Competition for audience

“I think people are going to be very selective about the events they go to,” noted Enselein. “I used to travel every single week; I would be on the road all the time. And maybe I forgot how much I enjoy being with my family. Now I'm more selective about where I'm going to travel, and when I'm there I’m really engaged, and I really want to connect and understand other people’s perspectives.”

IMEX America's on-site team at the end of the show.
IMEX America's on-site team at the end of the show.

Collaborative negotiations

Will compression lead to a seller’s market? “I've been doing this long enough that I've seen enough ebbs and flows to say I really don't care,” said Michael Massari, chief sales officer for Caesars Entertainment. “If we are entering the biggest seller's market of all time, I'm going to be around when we exit it, as well.”

Regardless of business conditions, the goal in any negotiation is the same, Massari added. Caesars had more than 4,000 events cancel due to Covid-19. “We dealt with them the way we deal with everything else: Here's the problem we have, here's the problem you have, let's figure it out. Let's come to a solution that we can both live with and that doesn't put any either of us out of business.”

A strong 2022

In terms of meetings business, “I think 2022 could be one of our better years ever,” Massari said. Even if something unforeseen happens in the realm of Covid-19, “we’ve figured a lot of this stuff out.” Vaccinations are highly effective and broadly available, and new treatment protocols are coming to market. All signs point to a very strong 2022, not just for Caesars, said Massari, but for the industry at large.

IMEX America 2022 will return from 11 – 13 October.

Source: Northstar Meeting Group



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