IMEX 2010, the Worldwide Exhibition for Incentive Travel, Meetings & Events, opened in Frankfurt, Germany, May 25, with an optimistic tone, based on an outlook for a slowly improving economy. Ray Bloom, chairman, IMEX Group, announced at the opening ceremonies that a record 3,800 hosted buyers were expected during three days of the show.

IMEX attendees also include trade visitors, anticipated to number 5,000 this year, many of them Germany-based buyers. In addition, this year’s event has attracted 3,500 exhibitors from 150 countries.

Bloom acknowledged the tough times the industry had been through, referencing both the shutdown of European airports because of ash from the volcano in Iceland and the devastation to the Gulf region of the United States due to the BP oil spill.

"No one would wish a natural disaster on any region," he said. "But this industry is extremely resilient. We can become part of the solution. I see the value of face-to-face meetings as being more important than ever."

Leigh Harry, chief executive, Melbourne Exhibition & Convention Centre, president of the International Congress and Convention Association, and president of the Joint Meeting Industry Council, also spoke at the opening ceremonies. "We've been demonized as being part of the problem," he said in reference to the perception problems the meetings industry has experienced over the past two years. He challenged the industry to better define itself. “There will be more downturns. We need to be able to prove the industry's value through hard data and good lines of communication," he said

Carina Bauer, CEO, IMEX Group said some 40,000 appointments were pre-scheduled through the show’s hosted-buyer program. Each hosted buyer must commit to at least four appointments a day and stay for two days. In addition, IMEX has 76 educational sessions planned, the most ever, including a highly successful Association Day, which took place May 24 and attracted a record 300 buyers from 30 countries, 60 of them from the U.S.

Lessons from the Ash Crisis
One of the first educational sessions looked at the impact of the Icelandic volcano on the meetings industry. Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association, moderated the session and shared the results of a survey of 900 ICCA member companies and organizations in 85 countries conducted the week following the closure of European airports. Sixty percent of respondents said they had been impacted significantly by the closures.

“This has been a massive wakeup call for the global industry. It’s going to mean major reassessments on areas such as risk management, financial reserves policies, communication strategy, and contracts and insurance,” said Sirk. “Everyone is carefully scrutinizing their policies and standard documents to make sure they're not laying themselves open to massive risks.”

Session attendees heard horror stories from European professional congress organizers, associations, destinations, and airlines, who dealt with canceled meetings or meetings with significantly reduced delegates. The response from hotels ranged from "hospitable," that is the waiving of cancellation fees, to not very hospitable, putting some companies in danger of losing hundreds of thousands of Euros.

“On the bright side,” said Sirk, “the crisis really brought out the creative and human side of the business. We heard so many heartwarming stories and fantastic solutions." Some meeting professionals reported feelings of esprit de corps among stranded attendees, or attendees who managed to make it to meetings having added hours and days to their journeys, taking taxis, buses, and trains to their destinations.

New Evening Event
The evening before the show opened saw the launch of a new event—the first Site Nite Europe, which raised funds for the Site Foundation. Also held on the evening of May 24 was the Association Evening, the traditional opening event for the IMEX.

IMEX is in its eighth year. In 2011, IMEX will launch IMEX America, scheduled for October 11–13 in Las Vegas. IMEX’s strategic partner for the new event is Meeting Professionals International, which will present a comprehensive program of seminars there.

On opening day at IMEX, Meeting Professionals International announced a new strategic partnership with Jumeirah Hotels. In exchange for marketing opportunities and training for Jumeirah personnel so that they may earn their certified meeting professional designations, the hotel chain has made a donation to the MPI Foundation.