We recently caught up with Ray Bloom, chairman of IMEX, the worldwide exhibition for incentive meetings, travel, and events, to get his perspective on the global recession and the outlook for international meetings.

Gearing up for IMEX 2009, May 26–28 in Frankfurt, Germany, Bloom said the downturn clearly is being felt; however, if the interest in IMEX is any guide, the drive and desire for meetings hasn’t weakened a bit.

“In this economy, there are fewer meetings being organized and those that are going ahead are often smaller than we have experienced in the past five years,” Bloom says. “On a positive note, pharmaceutical meetings and incentive programs are still going ahead strongly and association meetings and congresses continue to be planned years in advance. While some association meetings may report a decline in delegates, others report an increased need and desire for members to get together to network, do business, and develop their skills.”

Despite the global recession, Bloom reports that demand from hosted buyers worldwide to attend IMEX has never been higher. “We expect attendance to be extremely strong and to beat our previous records, including a significant increase in buyer attendance from the U.S.,” he says. “On the supplier side, we expect more countries than ever before to be represented at IMEX, and we have experienced extremely strong demand from exhibitors across the world who wish to be present at the show.

”Many of our major stands have increased their space this year as a result of private-sector demand, including Germany, Austria, Spain, Cyprus, Norway, Poland, Croatia, Czech Tourist Authority, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Macau, and Japan. We also have many new exhibitors, including El Salvador, Lebanon, and Kenya,” he adds. “From the U.S., Texas, Las Vegas, New York City, and Philadelphia have all increased their space, the Boston CVB will be returning to the show, and the Anchorage CVB will be attending for the first time. We are finding that in this time of economic turbulence, both exhibitors and buyers want to meet more than ever and want to meet where they are assured of genuine business opportunities.”

Bloom acknowledges that much of the downturn in meetings this year is not a question of the economy but a question of publicity. “One of the major challenges that faces our industry is that of perception, with the value and benefits of the meetings industry being held to account in unprecedented ways,” Bloom says. “While this issue has hit hardest in the U.S., the perception debate is a worldwide issue, and the U.S. response and the unity shown by the major industry forces is immensely helpful for the rest of the world.”

He also points out that, over the long term, the meetings and events industry can emerge stronger for all the scrutiny. “The issue has led to event companies quickly adopting new strategies and offerings for clients. For example, one event agency in the U.K.—Motivcom—has developed a bank of low-cost event ideas that can be run in many areas to allow clients to achieve their aims without stirring a major internal or external uproar about the glamour or expense. They are also helping clients to introduce different types of rewards that still offer the motivation of high-profile travel, but on an individual basis, which is less controversial and more cost-effective.”

Some IMEX highlights:

  • IMEX 2009 will include its largest seminar program ever, with more than 70 seminars, workshops, and forums taking place around the show.
  • ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership will run a session, “Leading Your Association Into the Future,” by futurist Rohit Talwar, which will form an important part of the IMEX association buyer program. Bloom expects up to 800 association buyers to attend IMEX, of whom 250 will attend the IMEX Association Day on May 25. ASAE will bring a delegation of 20 members to this event and to the exhibition.
  • A Professional Convention Management Association seminar, which focuses on the North American outbound market, will involve a dialogue between PCMA members and convention center suppliers to help create productive business relationships between North American planners and European suppliers. PCMA will bring a delegation of 15 members to IMEX.
  • Meetings Under the Microscope is an initiative that aims to help meeting planners look beyond the logistics of their events and concentrate on the content, strategy, and outcomes. This includes ROI, but also looks at issues such as delegate psychology, facilitation techniques, meeting environments, and even cultural considerations. The initiative will be based at the Professional Development & Innovation Pavilion, which is sponsored by the Convention Industry Council, and will incorporate seminars and workshops, experts at the booth for one-on-one advice, case studies, and an electronic toolkit, which will also be available after the show at the IMEX Web site.

Visit www.imex-frankfurt.com