IMEX Wrap Up: A View From Frankfurt

The first IMEX in Frankfurt since 2019, which concluded on June 2, proved to be a momentous occasion for the global meetings, events and incentive travel industry. The three-day event was marked by an outpouring of camaraderie, celebration and, most importantly, business.

The event saw an attendance of around 9,000, including close to 3,000 buyers, of which the majority were hosted. There were as many as 2,300 exhibiting companies.

Speaking after the closing press conference, IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer said, “It’s clearly been a great week for our global industry. The show was imbued with a sense of camaraderie and celebration, and it felt good to be back together in the same room—that’s the feeling our industry thrives on and is motivated by. We’ve heard about some huge contracts being signed and masses of business deals being done. All the indicators suggest that 2023 and 2024 are going to be very good years for our industry. However, we can’t deny the challenges of a new business reality—labor shortages, travel disruptions, supply chain issues. However, planners are resourceful, adaptable and determined by nature. They’ve learned a lot and I sense a strong determination to rebuild, but on new foundations. Equally, suppliers are doing their level best to flex and respond. The future looks bright.”

Feedback from exhibitors and buyers also indicated that the return of the show after an enforced break of three years felt special. Day one saw Messe Frankfurt land two unexpected contracts, an endorsement of the team’s decision to exhibit on their own stand for the first time in 20 years and to promote their venue more assertively. 

Daniel Reid, assistant vice president of Global Sales Europe for Shangri-La Group, was delighted with the quality of business leads. He said, “We had six really strong inquiries from big brands for large groups. They include Google, Herbalife and a big telecoms company. Those inquiries span London, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo and Dubai. I’d sum it up as serious business from serious buyers,” he said. 

Christine Spitzenberg, senior sales manager at Messe Frankfurt, said, “This is my 17th IMEX, and the best IMEX in years. My first appointment on Tuesday was a direct inquiry with a new client for a medical congress for 5,500 people with 15,000 square meter (1,61,460 square feet) of exhibition space for 2028 or 2030.” 

Similarly positive feedback came from Lourdes Bizarro, meetings & bids manager, Los Cabos Tourism Board, who said, “This is our first IMEX and it’s been fantastic to meet planners and to educate them on Los Cabos because our destination isn’t famous for business events. We’ve had more than 180 appointments and pre-IMEX we established alliances with MPI and Site to run events with them to help raise our profile.”

Throughout the IMEX education program, many presentations focused on future trends, current behaviors and changes to "industry norms". Shorter sales cycles; an emphasis on sustainability; niche, highly targeted events plus shorter meetings and events are all forecast, and desired by attendees. Wellness is now front and center, with a change in the story: an end-to-end duty of care to attendees, including consideration for their mental health, rather than a traditional focus on smoothies for breakfast or morning yoga, although both are expected too. 

Corporate planners attending "Exclusively Corporate" on May 31, confirmed that, although some destinations are offering financial incentives of up to 100 Euros per delegate to attract events, buyers’ current top priority is how well that destination has managed COVID. Many agreed that financial incentives are helpful (if ethics policies allow) but proof of consistent and ongoing health management is more important, coupled with strong partnership values. 

IMEX in Frankfurt
(IMEX in Frankfurt)

IMEX in Frankfurt Gala Dinner Awards

Professionals from all corners of the global business events industry were also honored at the IMEX in Frankfurt Gala Dinner Awards at the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport Hotel on June 1.

The Global Ambassador Award went to Adam Burke, president and CEO of Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. Burke was recognized for his commitment to developing equity, diversity and inclusion best practices as well as for strong leadership within his community. 

The IAEE International Excellence Award was presented to Simon Wang, executive vice president, Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA). Wang has been at the forefront of various government projects promoting the MICE industry and is project director of Taiwan’s MICE Promotion Program—MEET.

With sustainability continuing to be high priority, especially as the 2050 Net Zero target edges closer, this year’s IAPCO Innovation Award was given to Ok Hyojung, director of Ezpmp Korea. She was honored for her use of innovative digital technology to deliver a flawless carbon neutral event to a virtual audience. The P4G Summit in Korea in 2021 was the first multilateral environmental event to be hosted by the South Korean  government and brought together government representatives and international organizations to focus on ‘Inclusive Green Recovery Towards Carbon Neutrality’.

New for this year, the ICCA Global Influencer Award was won by Thomas Reiser, executive director of the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH) and chair—ICCA Association Advisory Committee. Reiser was presented the award for his leadership role and the impact of his personality, knowledge, and expertise throughout the association community.

The JMIC Unity Award went to Rod Cameron, president of Criterion Communications Ltd. The award recognized Cameron’s contribution to the development of the industry and consistently high level of professionalism. 

Next, the awards looked ahead to the event professionals of the future: Panashe Mahakwa, a student at Vistula University in Warsaw, won the MPI Foundation Student Scholarship Award, which celebrates and supports the next generation of meeting planners as part of the IMEX-MPI-MCI Future Leaders Forum International University Challenge. The PCMA Global Business Events Executive of the Year Award went to Patrizia Buongiorno, vice president, AIM GROUP International for holding herself and her team to the highest standards, mentoring, training and creating opportunities for her team to be recognized for their achievements

The Jane E. Schuldt SITE Master Motivator Award was presented to Paul Miller, CIS, CITP, managing director of Spectra DMC. Before his current role with Spectra, a DMC based in the U.K., Paul had four years of service in the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace. This award honors a SITE member who upholds the highest standard of excellence in creating and delivering successful incentive travel events and exudes enthusiasm and a collaborative spirit in support of the global incentive travel community. 

The Copenhagen Convention Bureau won the hotly contested IMEX EIC Innovation in Sustainability Award for its Copenhagen Legacy Lab (CLL). The CLL connects international congresses held in Copenhagen with local business and science communities, thereby integrating legacy before, during and after events. The Paul Flackett IMEX Academy Awards, named in tribute to the former IMEX managing director were presented to three women, Carlotta Ferrari, Destination Florence Convention & Visitors Bureau & Convention; Barbara Jamison-Woods, London & Partners and Karen Bolinger, Bolinger Consulting. They were recognized for their long-term commitment to the industry and for pushing boundaries around innovation.

IMEX in Frankfurt
(IMEX in Frankfurt)

Community, Climate Change & Creativity

For many of the buyers coming from around the world, the show represented a chance to discover how destinations and venues have evolved.

Tess Di Iorio, a hosted buyer from Imagine Experience in the U.S., said, “I’m interested in unique locations for incentive events and it’s been a joy to see how many places have blossomed. I’ve met with Dubai and Ireland among others, and hearing their stories means I now have tangible content with which to engage my clients. At my meeting with Ireland for example, we discussed the possibility of an incentive around Ryder Cup returning in 2027.”

The demands on the industry to innovate to meet the changed needs of the business climate were addressed through some of the 150 plus education sessions. Innovation can be facilitated through collaboration as Matthias Schultze, managing director of the GCB German Convention Bureau, explained in his session.

Community topped the agenda for destinations as Jane Cunningham, director of European engagement at Destinations International, explained at the launch of Destinations International’s (DI) Pathfinders Program: “Destinations all over Europe are asking themselves the same questions and primary among them is, how can we engage more meaningfully with our communities? They’re also asking if their business models need adapting to remain relevant.” Jane talked through her learnings from a recent ‘Listening Tour’ of Europe—four issues dominate: workforce; destination impact; community alignment and climate change.

Dawn Lauder, head of International Conferences at Scottish Event Campus (SEC), shared advice on how event planners can tackle climate change based on her experience of hosting COP26. In "What are the legacies for the event industry from COP26?" Dawn emphasized the importance of building sustainability into event design from the outset and engaging with like-minded organizations: “Find companies who share the same values and work together. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. We’re all on this journey together and collaboration is key to success. One of the reasons I’m at IMEX is to connect with people who are on the same wavelength.”

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