A conversation with IMEX Chairman Ray Bloom.
Chairman of the IMEX Group and inventor of the hosted-buyer program, Ray Bloom is busy preparing to launch hismodel in the United States: IMEX America, designed for North American planners of international meetings, is set for October 11–13, 2011, at the Sands Expo & Convention Center at The Venetian/The Palazzo in Las Vegas. Bloom is building upon his successful history with IMEX Frankfurt, which in May 2010 welcomed 3,800 hosted buyers to Messe Frankfurt. For exhibitors, the advantage of a hosted-buyer program is, as Bloom says, “obvious—it’s a guarantee of the quantity and quality of buyers at the show.”
For buyers, it means East Sussex, U.K.–based IMEX pays for their travel and accommodations. It’s worth noting that IMEX’s appointment-making system is “buyer led,” meaning buyers choose the exhibitors with whom they meet. Beyond Borders Editor Alison Hall recently spoke with Bloom about bringing the world to Vegas.
Beyond Borders: How do you find and qualify hosted buyers for IMEX events?
Ray Bloom: Virtually all of them come from intermediaries, and a significant number come from hotel groups. They use their sales offices to identify clients and some prospects. We also work with many trade associations, who invite selected members, and with many trade publications, inviting their top readers. Then we have a further qualification process. Buyers must be responsible for planning, recommending, or making financial decisions for meetings, conferences, or incentive travel programs outside their home country. A small number, under 10 percent, are from our own database.
BB: How are the appointments made?
Bloom: Each exhibitor has a Web page and an online diary. Buyers are committed to make a certain number of appointments with exhibitors of their choice, which they do via the online diary. We also send out lists of all the hosted buyers (with the buyers’ agreement) so that exhibitors can do their own pre-show . Then, through our integrated messaging service, buyers and exhibitors communicate with each other before the show.
At IMEX Frankfurt in 2009, 3,700 hosted buyers made 40,000 appointments. We also had 5,000 nonhosted buyers at the show, who made 2,000 appointments. Another aspect of the hosted-buyer program is group appointments. An association or intermediary can make a group appointment, for example bringing 10 buyers to see an exhibitor. This gives a destination an opportunity to present to people who might not otherwise come to see them, while buyers have a chance to learn about a destination they might not otherwise have considered.
BB: What educational opportunities will be offered at IMEX America?
Bloom: Meeting Professionals International, our strategic partner and the major educational provider, will present a comprehensive program of seminars. SITE, which has planned its annual conference to start on the evening that IMEX America closes, also will conduct a seminar one morning. And we will have other educational programs from associations including the Professional Convention Management Association, American Society of Association Executives, International Congress and Convention Association, Association of Corporate Travel Executives, International Association of Congress Centres, Destination Marketing Association International, and Green Meeting Industry Council.
It is important to note that MPI’s seminar program takes place the day before the show and before the show opens each morning. The other major trade association seminars also take place before the show opens each morning. We don’t do anything to compete with the show. On the show floor, however, we have drop-in pavilions, which give other organizations an opportunity to put on shorter seminars—one every hour. These are on a range of topics from professional development to. They are rolling throughout the show, and people can drop in.
BB: You’ve increased your hosted-buyer estimate for IMEX America.
Bloom: The response has been so strong, especially the response to the hosted-buyer program. With that in mind, I increased our goal for hosted buyers from 1,500 to 2,000, 80 percent of them from North America.