IMEX America 2022: A Show for the Ages Reflects a True Industry Rebound and a Full Recovery on the Horizon
As the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas buzzed with the sounds of utility vehicles zipping by and booths being meticulously finished for the show floor opening of IMEX America the next day, Carina Bauer, IMEX Group CEO, couldn’t have been calmer—or more excited.
“Fantastic!” she said, when I asked how she was feeling ahead of the big day.
Her joy—and that of the thousands of attendees who graced the show floor, educational sessions and networking events Oct. 10-13—was palpable. One overriding feeling seemed to prevail: The rebound is real.
When all was said and done, the 11th edition of IMEX America, the leading annual show for the business meetings and events industry, turned out to be one of the most epic yet. The overall attendance between buyers and exhibitors was 12,000 people, and impressive educational sessions and activations met attendees where they are professionally—and personally—following important lessons learned during the pandemic and current challenges, while inspiring them to move forward with a newfound sense of clarity and purpose.
With IMEX’s two annual shows in Las Vegas and Frankfurt being bellwethers for the state of the industry, a full recovery seemed clearer on the horizon after the success of last week’s show.
“It's a reflection of the bounce back and the health of the industry,” Bauer said. “I think it’s interesting that despite some strong headwinds that we're all feeling from many different sides, business events are still experiencing strong growth as well as incentive travel.”
By the Numbers
Of the 12,000 attendees at IMEX America 2022, more than 4,000 were buyers, 3,300 of whom came on the show’s hallmark hosted buyer program, while the rest represented employees of exhibiting destinations and companies, speakers and media.
According to IMEX Chairman Ray Bloom, the 2022 edition was 45% bigger than last year due to an easing of travel restrictions plus 40% of exhibitors taking more booth space. Across the board, exhibitors from around the world returned in strong numbers. Of those who doubled the size of their booths, 24% were from North America, 23% were hotel groups, 15% were from Europe, and 12% were from Asia. Latin American and tech exhibitors also showed significant increases.
Significantly, North American representation was the largest by square footage since IMEX America launched in 2011, and European exhibitors were back in force after travel restrictions prevented many from participating last year.
“The size of this year’s show is obviously a function of many in the industry being able to travel and plan meetings again and to do so with certainty,” Bloom said. “It’s been a long time coming and, although we a produced a great show last year, this week felt like the big comeback we’ve all been waiting for.”
Bauer added that the size of the 2022 show was only 6% smaller than the largest IMEX America show just before the pandemic.
“It’s thrilling to see that we’re very close to 2019 size and that we’re back to being a truly global show,” she said. “The demand that we’re seeing from both the buyers and exhibitors reflects the great desire for clients to get back to business.”
According to Bloom, challenges remain despite the demand, and equally, it seems buyers are being more “discerning.”
“We’ve heard they’re preparing RFPs in more detail and being more rigorous in their selection criteria,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bloom explained that exhibitors had reported long pipelines, with business being placed as far out as 2028, while robust business transactions were reported overall for the show.
Exhibitors and buyers alike applauded the optimistic vibe at IMEX America 2022.
Mike Waterman, chief sales officer for Visit Orlando, raved about the energy on the floor and the great engagement with the hundreds of buyers the destination met throughout the show.
“Last year, IMEX was a little bit more social, with people asking how everyone was doing and using it as a nice way to reconnect in person since before the pandemic,” Waterman said. “This year, people are bringing RFPs and site inspections, and they want to get business done.”
Michael Massari, chief sales officer for Caesars Entertainment, echoed that sentiment, adding that meetings and conventions business is booming overall for the company, which is on track to have another record year, and Caesars and its clients are grateful to be back to normal.
“The feeling on the floor is joyous, and we're all so happy to be here,” Massari said. “I think there's still a lot of gratitude that people have because it's still really close to their memory that it was all taken away [during the pandemic].”
Hosted buyer Alan Kleinfeld said it felt great to be at IMEX America again this year.
“I was here last year, and this show feels a lot busier, and it feels like the floor has actually expanded with more exhibitors, which I guess is true because a lot of international suppliers probably could not make it last year,” Kleinfeld said. “It also seems like overall, COVID is behind us because it hasn't even been mentioned.”
Jeniffer Bello, an independent planner attending IMEX as a hosted buyer, was also enjoying the experience.
“I always come to IMEX, but this is the first time I’ve come as a hosted buyer, and it’s been really nice so far,” Bello said. “I always have two goals when it comes to IMEX: The first is to discover new destinations and make new connections. The second is to source the things that you can actually do in those places.”
Bello added that she was enjoying the interesting lineup of educational sessions, particularly those focusing on female leadership and challenges presented by female speakers and panelists, including Smart Monday’s She Means Business program.
On-Point Education and Keynotes
Under the theme Pathways to Clarity, the IMEX team, including its new Director of Program Tahira Endean, streamlined the number of education tracks from 10 to four: Respect for People and Planet, Future Self, Innovation and Creativity, and Event Planner Toolkit. The remodeled program aimed to deliver a fresh twist on old problems while also facing the business realities and personal challenges of 2022 and beyond head on.
“We know meeting and event industry professionals are overrun, overwhelmed and seeking clarity, so this year’s learning sessions were designed to deliver bold content to cut to the heart of the biggest issues in business and personal growth,” Bauer said.
There were more than 200 educational events over four days at the show, addressing modern-day event challenges as well as industry trends such as the metaverse and cryptocurrencies, in addition to sustainability, diversity, equity, inclusion and well-being.
Every year at the show, IMEX America’s strategic partner, Meeting Professionals International (MPI), sponsors a series of keynotes that spotlight some of the industry’s most trending topics, starting with Smart Monday, powered by MPI, and running every morning thereafter. This year, human-centered service, imposter syndrome, engaging communities and the power of play were among the topics covered during inspiring keynotes that included the following standouts:
- Composing Change: Events That Move People with Kai Kight, a classical violinist-turned innovative composer and entrepreneur, who used music as a metaphor to inspire the audience to "compose" events with human-centered paths of imagination, fulfilment and presence.
- Leadership Passport: Build Better Relationships and Create Engaged Communities with Shane Feldman, founder and CEO of Count Me In, who highlighted ways to cultivate a work environment centered on community to help individuals and teams perform at their highest levels.
Meanwhile, Smart Monday's educational sessions were just as impactful, centering on themes such as collaboration, community, belonging and female advancement and leadership, including moving presentations such as:
- AVoice4All: The Google Experience Institute (Xi)—Why We Became Champions for Inclusion and Belonging with Megan Henshall, global events strategic solutions lead at Google and Naomi Clare Crellin, CEO and founder of Storycraft Lab.
- She Means Business, a program emceed by Courtney Stanley, keynote speaker, event emcee and speaker coach, and featuring powerful sessions with notable industry changemakers such as Ain't I a Woman? A Conversation Around Visibility and Advancement in the Workplace, Ladies Choice: Women in Business Development and Gender Equity in the Workforce: A Solution to the Economic Crisis.
Engagement on the Show Floor and Beyond
In addition to the wide array of educational sessions, IMEX America 2022 delighted, inspired and re-energized attendees with engaging features such as Encore's spellbinding Break Free activation; the Events Industry Council (EIC) People and Planet Village's unique workshops, CSR activities and installations; Listening Labs; and the Be Well Lounge.
Included among the many highlights were:
- Encore's Break Free activation, a fully immersive storytelling experience that challenged attendees to think more deeply about sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion, and next-level event experiences.
- Planet Plenty Juice Bar, sponsored by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which partnered with IMEX for the first time in order to extend the reach of its Hotel Kitchen food waste-reduction program to the meetings and events sector, and featured nutritious, fresh-pressed homemade juices.
- Guided tech tours by the Dahlia+Agency, connecting event professionals to the many event tech companies on the show floor—including IMEX newcomers such as Hubilo, WebEx, Vfairs, Simple View and 6 Connex—and some of the latest and greatest in event tech.
- Be Well Lounge, curated by Holly Duckworth, CEO and founder of Leadership Solutions International, offering a calming quiet space to decompress, along with 45 meditation sessions over the course of the show that were customized to address event professionals unique needs in today's environment.
- Listening Labs, personal sessions with mental health professionals to talk privately through any issues or concerns attendees are having, particularly after the turbulent pandemic.
"The Listening Labs were a great addition to the show and a recognition that our industry really went through a lot of trauma over the past two years, so this feeds into mental health and well-being and the importance of taking care of ourselves," Bauer said. "While the industry is coming back, we wanted to offer people the chance to do a one-to-one coaching or therapy session to address their specific needs."
Taking Stock of Important Themes
Some of the big themes emanating through corridor conversations, keynotes and sessions included service levels, contracts, well-being and mental health, the pros and cons of distributed workforces, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI+B), and sustainability, both personal and environmental.
“The juddering, global halt of the pandemic may be behind us, but its lessons live on," Bauer said at the close of IMEX. "And having talked about disruption as a tool for business transformation for so long, we’re now seeing what that really means. Many of these lessons are positive, innovative and long overdue.”
Bauer pointed to IMEX America session examples, from the AVoice4All program on Smart Monday to Google Experience Institute’s NEU Project, focusing on events inclusive of neurodiverse attendees.
“We’re all invited to understand that events—and event designs—have excluded too many people for too long,” she said.
Bauer added that two concepts that prevailed throughout IMEX America 2022 were belonging and freedom of choice.
“The first is about making sure everyone feels welcomed—that they genuinely belong at our events and that our designs include them,” Bauer said. “The second is a call for planners to let go—to break free of over-scheduling and a ‘more is more’ approach. We need to put people first, give them more choice and pay more attention to what makes us all human.”
She added that at its most basic, this means prioritizing healthy nutritious food, time for rest, space for unscheduled connection and plenty of daylight.
“Google’s Megan Henshall put it best," Bauer said. "‘Not only does the data show that belonging is good for business, but as designers, we also need to do a better job of not asking people to leave their lived experience at the doors when they come to our events.”