Don’t tell anyone in the meetings and events industry that that the U.S. economy is in a funk, or at least those who flocked to IMEX America October 9–11 in Las Vegas. The second annual show (a sister of the highly successful IMEX held in Frankfurt, Germany, every May) drew record numbers of buyers and sellers to Halls C and D of the Sands Expo Center, which were bursting at the seams.

IMEX Group Chairman Ray Bloom confirmed in a closing press conference last Thursday that the show hosted 2,400 hosted buyers, up 400 from last year, its inaugural year.  Meeting managers from the U.S., the vast majority of whom plan international meetings, and 43 other countries received complimentary air and hotel in exchange for having eight pre-scheduled appointments with exhibitors on at least two of the three days. There were also 1,700 other attendees, which includes meeting managers and buyers who opted to pay their own way.

Above: Celebrating at Site Nite, an annual fundraiser for the Site International Foundation, held this year at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, from left: Stephen Powell, SVP worldwide sales-IHG and Site International Foundation Board of Trustees president; Fay Beauchine, president, U.S. Business Loyalty- Aimia; Kurt Paben, SVP high tech vertical-Aimia; Allison Summers, managing director- Site; and Philip Eidsvold, Site Nite North America Chairman and account director, Aimia. The group is posing with models wearing vintage Delta Air Lines flight attendant uniforms from the 1960s, on loan from Delta Air Lines’ Archives Team for the event.

 

All attendees could attend a free day of education, Smart Monday, before the show opened as well as dozens of smaller educational events, which were held throughout the three days on the show floor. Meeting Professionals International spearheaded the education on Monday and featured general session speakers each morning, before the show opened. Several other industry associations supported education for the popular “Association Day” and evening, also held on Monday. MeetingsNet hosted its annual CMI 25 reception on Monday evening, followed by Site International Foundation's Site Nite at the Hard Rock Hotel.

The number of exhibitors increased, too, with 2,413 exhibiting companies, up from 1,867 last year. The show has become so successful that Bloom announced IMEX would be moving to larger quarters next year, into adjacent halls, to accommodate the need for more exhibition space.

This year IMEX’s sophisticated online appointment scheduling software managed more than 38,000 appointments—a 60 percent increase over the debut show.

Above: Marking the 40th anniversary of the phrase “destination management company” and the DMC concept, from left: Christopher Verstraete, Euromic; Ray Bloom, IMEX; Chris Lee, ACCESS Destination Services; Pauline Risbecker Kim, Euromic Sweden; Joe Lustenberger, Euromic; Grant Snider, JPdL; and Phil Lee, ACCESS, at the ACCESS booth at IMEX America.

Political Advocacy Forum

The mayor of Las Vegas, Caroline Goodman, and her husband, Oscar, the city's former mayor, were among the featured guests at a political advocacy forum Tuesday afternoon. Organized by the U.S. Travel Association, a series of thought-provoking speakers discussed the industry's struggles over the past few years and rallied attendees to think broadly about the value of meetings.

"Our industry was caught on its heels in 2008 and 2009. As a group, we didn't have the [industry’s economic impact] numbers,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel. "Our top priorities have been to keep America meeting and to make sure our industry is not left defenseless again." Dow outlined U.S. Travel’s recent efforts, including its work with congressional supporters to stop anti-meeting legislation introduced after the General Services Administration convention-spending scandal and U.S. Travel’s guerrilla advocacy efforts at the Democrat and Republican national conventions.

"Our work is far from over," said Dow, who enumerated three ways for attendees to make a difference:

• Communicate with U.S. Travel about anything that's making it difficult to do business in the meetings industry, such as infrastructure, airlift, or visa issues.

• Establish relationships with congressional representatives in your area.

• Join U.S. Travel's Power of Travel Coalition by texting "vote" to 877877.

Above: Roger Dow, CEO, U.S. Travel, at IMEX's Political Advocacy Forum

Rod Cameron, president of Vancouver-based Criterion Communications, a management and marketing consultancy specializing in the convention industry, also took the stage at the forum to discuss what he sees as a general lack of appreciation for the power of meetings and conventions. “There is a disconnect between the No. 1 priority in most parts of the world—economic recovery and growth—and what it is we do,” Cameron said. “We are the solution in many respects to that big issue. Because so many communities and so many of those in government don’t understand that relationship, we are not seen as we should be, namely as a central part of the global recovery.”

As the world shifts to a knowledge-based economy where innovation and information sharing is critical, the value of meetings isn’t simply in the number of people the industry employs or the spending by convention delegates. “The greatest value of meetings,” Cameron said, “is what they accomplish in terms of economic and professional development.”

The key to successfully spreading this big picture message, said Cameron, is by engaging with local leaders and communities. People, he said, understand their local issues; local governments tend to make the investment decisions, and the benefits of meetings are felt locally.  Following up on this point was a panel discussion with convention bureau executives, moderated by Geoff Freeman, COO and executive vice president of U.S Travel. Elliot Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC; Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau; and Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, each discussed how they dealt with critical challenges to their local meeting communities.

IMEX 2013

Bloom also announced at the closing press conference that the Sands Expo is undertaking a multimillion-dollar improvement program to be completed before IMEX returns, October 15–17, 2013. Future show dates are October 14–16, 2014, and October 13–15, 2015.