IMEX America 2021: 5 Key Takeaways Signaling an Industry Well on the Road to a Robust Recovery
Organizing a safe, productive and memorable event for thousands of attendees in a new pandemic world is one thing—doing it for your industry and proving it was a testament to its resiliency and ability to successfully recover is another.
The energy and excitement were palpable at IMEX America 2021, held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas Nov. 9-11, as attendees disembarked from shuttle buses and eagerly proceeded into the event. They happily showed proof of COVID-19 vaccination on their smart phones before heading onto the show floor to reunite with industry colleagues, build new connections, gain insights on fresh strategies and trends, and, most of all, step on the path toward post-pandemic progress.
When all was said and done, the show nicknamed “the heartbeat of the events industry” pointed to a healthy, bright future ahead.
“Like so many of you, our team worked long and hard to make IMEX America 2021 come to fruition,” said Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, addressing industry peers at the close of the show. “We were buoyed up knowing you were watching, waiting and willing it into life because it means so much for our global industry.”
Bauer added that, more importantly, the IMEX Group believes strongly in the economic value and positive impact of the events industry all over the world, and this 10th edition of IMEX America reflected that sentiment.
“This week has signaled that—collectively—we’re back, and we’re back in business,” she said. “Even if you weren’t in the room, we know you felt it from afar.”
With an impressive turnout considering nearly two years of industry shutdown, IMEX America showed that the industry is ready to reconnect and accelerate toward a return to pre-pandemic levels.
“Over 3,300 buyers were here this week, the vast majority of them hosted buyers, and we had over 2,200 exhibiting companies representing 200-plus countries,” said Ray Bloom, chairman and founder of IMEX Group.
Roughly 25% of exhibitors were from international markets thanks to COVID-19-related U.S. travel restrictions being lifted in the nick of time. The U.S. officially opened its borders to fully vaccinated foreign travelers Nov. 8.
The total number of attendees, including all representatives of the exhibiting companies, was between 9,000 and 10,000.
Meanwhile, with the show’s strong appointment showing, two thirds of which were made for the purpose of researching or to discuss a specific event, it was clear that buyers are aiming to kickstart business in 2022 and beyond.
“There were around 50,000 appointments, and feedback shows they produced strong business for exhibitors,” Bloom said. “Also notable was the quality of business and RFPs coming from walk-up appointments by attendee buyers.”
The show floor was the setting for exciting business opportunities, according to Andrew Swanston, head of sales, conferences and events at ExCel London, who explained one successful day at IMEX America in particular.
“A client we have been building a relationship with for over 10 years chose IMEX America as the place to confirm a 6,000-delegate event for an international medical association in 2022,” Swanston said. “The show was the ideal opportunity to meet face to face and sign the deal.”
A World of Opportunity, Here and Abroad
The global reach of the exhibitors was another sign of confidence for rebooting event business around the world.
The 200-plus countries exhibiting included representation from Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, all standing alongside a strong North American showing, as always.
Bill Lemmon, a hosted buyer from MCI, said the global scope was definitely a highlight of the show.
“This is the first time in a long time I’ve attended an event with such an international reach—it’s great to see people here from across the world,” he said. “I’m currently planning for 2022 and 2023 and have meetings on behalf of my U.S. association clients with destinations in Europe and Asia.”
Of the returning exhibitors at IMEX America, 16% invested in a larger presence at the show. Some, including Baltimore, EventsAir, Boise and St Louis, increased their stand space by 100% or more compared to the previous show in 2019.
Meanwhile, in a show of solidarity rather than competition to reignite the meetings and events industry throughout its state, Visit California had 22 destinations representing under its umbrella, with a total of 249 delegates.
Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, unveiled the state’s new Meet What’s Possible campaign at the show and said IMEX America 2021 was an ideal opportunity to celebrate that state’s reopening and to look forward to 2022, which it believes will be a monumental year.
“IMEX has exceeded expectations—just the quality of the show and the people here,” she said. “It’s amazing—and with a huge engagement factor. Since we’re coming out of COVID, I think we really appreciate in-person touch points.”
Meanwhile, this year, the show welcomes new exhibitors from across the destination, hotel and tech sectors, including Amadeus River Cruises, Hubilo, Iberostar Hotel & Resorts, JUNO, Louisiana, MeetingPlay, Minneapolis and and VenuIQ, among many others The dedicated Tech Area of the show was the largest ever, reflecting the sector’s growing demand for and investment in event technology, including virtual and hybrid events as a result of the pandemic.
The Comeback Is Real
The business demand demonstrated among exhibitors during IMEX was a true indication of the industry’s promising future, according to Bauer.
“It’s been heart-warming and joyful to hear so many comeback stories,” she said. “London & Partners, our friends here today, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and dozens more, including hotel groups such as Mandarin Oriental, have all reported strong business pipelines right through Q3 next year and into 2025.”
Las Vegas alone has roared back from the pandemic in terms of hosting large professional events. Between June and September of this year, the city welcomed back several of its annual trade shows, such as World of Concrete, Summer 2021 Las Vegas Market, MAGIC, OFFPRICE Show, Vision Expo West and PACK EXPO. The Las Vegas Convention Center alone hosted 25 events, and 22 more events are planned through Jan. 2022, with over 515,000 attendees expected.
Meanwhile, Caesars Entertainment is experiencing robust meeting and event business, along with several other hotel companies.
Caesars hosted 500 meetings and events company-wide in July, with 80% of its business coming from Las Vegas, and 2022 is shaping up to be the company’s best year ever, according to Michael Massari, chief sales officer for Caesars Entertainment.
“We’re ahead of pace by double digits for 2022, and we’re far ahead of pace for all of our future periods,” he said.
IMEX America 2021 provides an incredible opportunity to continue the momentum, according to Massari.
“Having this show in our town is incredible, and this year, we’re blessed to be able to show it to 8,000 to 10,000 people attending,” he said. “To see everybody in person who we have missed for two years makes us very happy just doing what we love to do.”
Top of Mind Trends
Innovation and inspiration have long been underlying themes at IMEX America, and this year was no exception. The program provided a wealth of opportunities for attendees to stay on top of the important topics and trends that are driving the future of successful meetings and events, as well as the latest in personal growth.
Smart Monday, powered by MPI, was held Nov. 8 before the official opening of IMEX America the next day. The pre-learning day before IMEX featured an impressive roster, including the EventMB Innovation Lab, an MGM Resorts sustainability tour, the Association Leadership Forum, created by ASAE, and the She Means Business initiative, championing female leaders and gender equity.
At IMEX America, a stellar lineup of keynote speakers covering everything from building a dream community to tapping into human nature and storytelling, in addition to 200 education sessions were featured.
The educational component of the show was a big draw for Frank Gainer, a hosted buyer from the American Occupational Therapy Association.
“Education is my passion, and I manage the learning opportunities at my events,” he said. “We’re currently reimagining how we run education at our events, which range from small events to larger annual conferences, and I’ve been inspired by the format of the show’s Inspiration Hub.”
IMEX America also delivered numerous opportunities focused on well-being, an important trend over the past several years—both personally and professionally when it comes to organizing events. Numerous sessions on mindfulness were available, in addition to the IMEX Be Well Lounge, which offered a full lineup of daily meditations as well as 15-minute massages.
“We had about 250 attendees take part in the mediations over a three-day period, which is a nice turnout that reflects the importance of mindfulness in events and for event professionals themselves,” said Leadership Solutions International Founder Holly Duckworth, who ran the lounge along with company partner Eric Szymanski.
Meanwhile, the traditional IMEXRun gave attendees a chance to stride through Vegas on an early morning 5K, while the Maritz Global Events Well-Being Challenge, powered by Heka Health and presented by Caesars Entertainment, drew more than 300 attendees. The three-day initiative included a walking challenge and other activities that enabled participants to track their steps and other accomplishments and earn prizes.
Another focal point and true highlight of the show was the new IMEX-EIC People & Planet Village, designed to champion social and environmental responsibility.
“Sustainability and wellbeing are now a top priority for both event organizers and delegates, and IMEX is kicking it out of the park!” said Dianne Wallace, program manager at George Washington University. “The education held at the village was incredibly helpful, such as Courtney Lohmann from PRA’s session on how to incorporate sustainability into event design.”
Partners of the village included LGBT MPA, ECPAT USA, Tourism Diversity Matters, Meetings Industry Fund, Meetings Mean Business, SEARCH Foundation, Above & Beyond Foundation, Clean the World and KHL Group.
Among the many highlights were a “misfit” vegetable juice bar, sustainability sessions and the Clubhouse Build™, which invited attendees to roll up their sleeves to help build a special play space for Luna, a local Vegas child with pediatric cancer.
SEARCH Foundation, which provides help for event, meeting and catering professionals in crisis, was another give-back success story in the village. The foundation, which raised $287,000 last year, helped make a difference in the lives of 27 event professionals in 2020 alone and continues going strong in 2021 and beyond.
The most rewarding part of the IMEX-EIC People & Planet Village is being a part of a greater overall connection to our community, according to Kate Patay, chairwoman of SEARCH Foundation.
"Each element of the village brings a unique way to directly affect our industry and help move us forward in various ways," she said. "Not only is SEARCH thrilled to further our reach through this element of the show and continue to assist industry individuals in crisis, but we get to learn about additional initiatives and resources available to meeting and event professionals."
Safe and Sound
In recent months, industry initiatives have aimed to prove how following proper health and safety protocols can ensure the safe return of in-person professional events, and that doing so will significantly accelerate economic recovery and the recovery of the global events sector.
IMEX was a perfect example of how implementing health and safety measures based on science, data and current regulations ensured a safe, welcoming and successful event.
Among the many measures were a vaccine mandate, an optional mask-wearing policy on the show floor and in meeting rooms, daily cleanliness inspections, onsite testing for COVID-19, protocols if someone tested positive and efforts to keep spaces as wide open as possible, including show floor aisles. Mandalay Bay also has achieved Global Biorisk Advisory Council® (GBAC) STAR™ accreditation.
IMEX America 2022 will take place Oct. 11-13 at the Mandalay Convention Center in Las Vegas.