IMEX America puts an exclamation mark on 2021 for the meeting industry

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IMEX America puts an exclamation mark on 2021 for the meeting industry

By Rich Luna | Nov 12, 2021

IMEX America, quite simply, put an exclamation mark on 2021 for the meeting and event industry.

While there have been IMEX Americas that have had more attendance, more hosted buyer appointments and more exhibitors, the 10th edition of the largest exhibition for incentive travel, meetings and events in the U.S. will go down as the best one yet. It came at a time when the industry needed a signature moment to reinforce the optimism and inspiration for recovery from the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The business meeting and event industry has already shown a resurgence in the second half of 2021, with meetings of all sizes taking place safely across the U.S. and in some international destinations.

With more than 8,500 enthusiastic meeting professionals attending IMEX America at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas—combined with Smart Monday education powered by MPI—the event concluded Thursday by delivering a resounding affirmation for the industry.

“It’s good to be back,” said Ray Bloom, chair of the IMEX Group. “The last few months have been so uncertain, not to mention the 18 past months. The business is coming back; it has been coming back for a while and it feels to me as if it’s getting stronger and stronger. We’ve got a long, long ways to go before we get back to where we were before the pandemic. I have to say, it’s good sometimes to have a stroke of luck.”

“This is why we are in this industry. This is where businesses move forward.”

Maybe it was luck, maybe it was just the right time for the industry to flex its collective strength to again show the business value of meetings.

Bloom said there were more than 3,300 buyers at the show with more than 50,000 appointments. And the show featured more than 2,200 exhibiting companies representing 200-plus countries. About 25 percent of the exhibitors represented international suppliers.

Attendance and enthusiasm for the show increased when the U.S. opened its borders to international travelers, a decision that went into effect just days before IMEX America began. Social media was filled with images and messages from international meeting professionals at airports bound for the U.S.

All attendees were required to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 to gain entry to the show and masks were required in all indoor public spaces, but optional on the show floor.

IMEX also provided a specialized health clinic onsite, together with access to testing stations for homeward bound international travelers whose travel providers require them to show a negative test before departure.

“To watch the relationships, the collaboration and communication to what it took to get here today, in a state of unknown times, this was a very special thing,” said Stephanie Glanzer, chief sales officer and senior vice president at MGM Resorts International. “It was a very special thing. We thank all of you, we thank the industry and the people that made it because I think that we would all admit what we have found over the past four days is this is why face to face matters. This is why we are in this industry. This is where businesses move forward.

“I said the other night that if there’s anything that’s come out of this challenging and negative time it is that organizations, attendees, we’re all trying to figure out how to seek more meaningful experiences. There’s more quality in why we’re doing things and organizations and meeting planners are being given more challenging objectives of why and how to host their programs. This is how we come to the next evolution of meetings, events and face-to-face meetings.”

It’s been a well-documented nearly two years since the industry was devastated by the pandemic, resulting in the cancellation or postponement of meetings and events and countless job losses. While face-to-face meetings, a staple of the global economy, are on the road to recovery, it is projected that it will take until 2023 or beyond to return to pre-COVID numbers for an industry that contributed US$1.03 trillion in direct spend in 2017, the most recent Global Economic Significance of Business Events report. The study also showed more than 1.4 billion participants from more than 180 countries attended meetings and events.

The pandemic brought this critical industry to a halt and IMEX America, and its parent company, the IMEX Group, were not immune. Its U.S. show in 2020 and its 2020 AND 2021 European event, IMEX in Frankfurt, were all wiped out.

Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group, was elated at the outcome of the 10th show in Las Vegas and the first at Mandalay Bay.

“It’s been heart-warming and joyful to hear so many comeback stories,” she said. “London & Partners, our friends here today, the LVCVA and dozens more, including hotel groups such as Mandarin Oriental, have all reported strong business pipelines right through Q3 next year and into 2025. This IMEX week has given us all reason to believe the industry’s future is bright.”

MPI, the IMEX Group’s largest strategic partner, shared in that elation.

“IMEX America was the reunion event we all needed to amplify our industry’s recovery,” said Annette Gregg, senior vice president for experience at MPI. “The trade show was full of business appointments and education, and people were thrilled to be face to face with colleagues and friends again. MPI once again produced incredible educational offerings with Smart Monday and the daily keynotes, topped by the high energy Rendezvous party. Congratulations to IMEX for an incredible event."

“This IMEX week has given us all reason to believe the industry’s future is bright.”

MPI had a presence at the conference beginning with Smart Monday, powered by MPI, prior to the start of the trade show and continuing on the show floor with booth education and activations including two Facebook Live daily broadcasts from MPItv and video testimonials to support MPI’s 50th anniversary in 2022.

Overall, more than 1,500 meeting professionals attended the daily keynotes or took part in MPI education. MPI offered 35 education sessions, and attendees were eligible to earn up to 34 clock hours.

MPI presented keynote speakers—Dr. Shimi Kang, Radha Agrawal and Erik Qualman—and a final-day session, “A Brand New You: Your IMEX Un-Keynote Experience” with Rx Fogarty and Jessie States, vice president of the MPI Academy.

The MPI Foundation raised more than $400,000 from events including Red, White & You, a silent auction and Rendezvous, the annual party at IMEX America. More than 2,500 people attended Rendezvous. The funds support member scholarships, chapter grants and industry research.

MPI made several announcements during IMEX, including the news that its signature education event, the World Education Congress, is going to Riviera Maya, México, in 2023, marking the first time WEC will be outside the U.S. or Canada.

The announcement comes after St. Louis, which had been selected to host 2023, requested to move to 2024. MPI then reopened the RFP process and selected Riviera Maya for its annual education and networking event.

“We are thrilled World Education Congress 2023 will be at the beautiful all-inclusive Barcelo Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico,” Gregg said. “This is the first time we are taking our premier (WEC) conference to Latin America, and the support from the community there has been extraordinary. It is the fastest-growing region of MPI membership, and all of our Latin America clubs and chapters will come together to create an unforgettable experience, immersed in the local culture.”

“MPI once again produced incredible educational offerings with Smart Monday and the daily keynotes, topped by the high energy Rendezvous party.”

Michel Wohlmuth, CEO of Creatividad in Mexico City, a member of MPI’s International Board of Directors and former president of the MPI Mexico Chapter, approached MPI’s senior leadership at IMEX Frankfurt in 2017 about the possibility of hosting WEC.

“Bringing WEC to Mexico is extremely exciting,” he said. “It fills me with joy because it is the perfect showcase to make known worldwide the incredible destination that Mexico is for the organization of congresses, conventions and incentive trips.”

WEC will be in San Francisco in 2022, celebrating its 50th anniversary. The following two years will be in Mexico and St. Louis, and MPI is currently working to determine sites for the 2025 and 2026 WEC conferences.

MPI’s signature European event, the European Meetings and Events Conference (EMEC) will be held completely in-person Feb. 27-March 1 in Brighton, United Kingdom. VisitBrighton, the official tourism organization for the city of Brighton & Hove, and the IMEX Group submitted a joint bid to host the event.

While Bonnie Carlson, president and CEO of the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau, will serve as president of MPI’s International Board of Directors in 2022, the association announced its full board slate including Cleo Battle, president and CEO of Louisville Tourism, as chair-elect.

Gary Schirmacher, CMP, CEO of Total Hospitality Industry Solutions, will serve as the 2022 MPI Foundation Global Board of Trustees Chair, with Jen Beatty, director of business development, international for Tourism Calgary, serving as chair-elect.

Overall, more than 200 education sessions were available throughout IMEX America. The IMEX team added a hybrid broadcast to the show and other concepts such as the People and Planet Village, focused on sustainability, diversity, social impact and giving back; the Inspiration Hub; and the Relaxation Reef at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef, a place to relax and recharge in the presence of 2,000 sea creatures, including sharks, giant rays and green sea turtles.

IMEX America dates for 2022, back at Mandalay Bay, were announced. The show will take place Oct. 11-13, 2022, with Smart Monday powered by MPI on Oct. 10.

“Like so many of you, our team worked long and hard to make IMEX America 2021 come to fruition,” Bauer said. “We were buoyed up knowing you were watching, waiting and willing it into life because it means so much for our global industry. We couldn’t have done it without you. More importantly, we do it for you because we believe so strongly in the economic value and positive impact of this industry all over the world.”



Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.