IMEX America is living proof that exhibitions with the right message and model can experience significant growth—20 percent more buyers this year, in the case of IMEX.
IMEX was held October 9–11 at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas. It’s a good time of year, and an easy city to fly to, with good rates. The event hosted a total of 2,400 buyers—proof that in this industry, the hosted-buyer model is the formula. A total of 1,700 others paid their way, a number that includes other meeting managers and buyers. IMEX partnered with numerous meeting industry associations on both education and events, including Meeting Professionals International, Professional Convention Management Association, Site, and ASAE—another model for success. And then, of course, it helps when the show organizers are known and loved by everyone in the industry.
Ten years ago, almost to the day, an editorial in our magazine lamented the free-fall of exhibitions, which were losing attendance fast and being replaced with virtual trade shows, saying how, “if we don’t act aggressively, the new alternatives will become the norm.” My parent company, Penton Media, is proof that this has not happened; instead, online events have become a niche product. According to my colleague Tim Stark, director of online events, virtual shows are the preferred choice in situations where markets aren’t big enough to support an in-person show or where they promise better attendance than a live event could.
For example, Stark, who manages 15 to 20 virtual trade shows a year, just held a virtual show for American City and County magazine, where, he says, “with government budgets so tight, we never could have attracted 2,500 government employees to a live event.”
A big challenge he sees with online events vs. live ones is what he calls the “commitment factor,” where, when people have made an effort to book their hotels, travel to the destination, and cover themselves at work, they try to get the most out of the experience. When they’re just sitting at their desks and something more important comes along, “they’re just one click away from not attending.”
Stark’s typical audience spends 2.25 hours at a virtual show, with a big chunk of that in webinars. That’s a very different experience from three days of connecting the dots at IMEX. Virtual trade shows may have found an important place—but they will never replace live events. Not in our industry, anyway.