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Meets, Shoots, Leaves - a view of IMEX

Coming back from IMEX the other day I reflected on what a difference a year makes. This time round two things that impressed me hugely. Firstly, the sheer number of people that attended and secondly the emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility. Signs of greens shoots in every sense?

IMEX Visitor Numbers Signify a Healthy Market?

On the first day attending I was immediately aware of volume! Volume of visitors was apparent as soon as I arrived on day one - there were far more visitors than I anticipated, especially from North America, and this is something that didn’t wane throughout my visit. Volume of exhibitors was impressive as was the variety. The number of countries and properties represented was a significant improvement, something that reinforced the positioning of international and global reach. And lastly the volume of noise, to be expected from a lot of people, but this was from a very busy show where stands were characterised by plenty of continual conversation and one-to-one meetings were at a premium, indicating people were engaged in valuable and worthwhile conversation. In fact Ray Bloom, Chairman of the IMEX Group mentioned at the close that arranged meetings had increased by 33%, and long-haul visitor numbers were up as well.

Whilst not scientific in the slightest, but the interest generated by all at IMEX is a good sign for the health of the market, so are we seeing more than green shoots of recovery but something more sustainable in the long-term? I anticipate so – the amount of property investment, new and refurbishment, is impressive and represents new opportunities in the incentive market such as Tanzania with Safari and Zanzibar now possible due to the opening of the Four Seasons Serengeti Lodge. Another indicator to me was the ideas and opportunities being discussed, on stand, in the lobbies and bars as well. I certainly feel there is a renewed feel good factor about the industry as a result.

Corporate Social Responsibility – Back Centre Stage?

And talking of green shoots, the other key take away from IMEX was the re-emergence of CSR as part of the conversations. It featured in most suppliers’ presentations and discussions, especially the DMCs, and was positioned knowledgeably and responsibly by all I spoke with. A good example was the Starwood presence – Their 'sustainable booth' was built by re-using existing elements of booths used in previous years, implementing low-energy and LED lighting and using recycled and recyclable (or environmentally friendly) materials such as FSC timber, rubber flooring and certified material finishes. Starwood will be measuring and monitoring the environmental impact of the construction as well as the operation of the booth, including waste recycling, levels of CO2 emissions and the energy and water consumption, with the aim of reducing the environmental impact of their booth year over year. Talking with the Starwood team it seems CSR is critically important to the group, every element of their exhibition presence is designed to be as sustainable, re-usable and low environmental impact as possible. I see CSR as a bell weather for the industry, when budgets are under severe pressure and costs of travelling rising steeply, it is often the more ‘nice to have’ elements of incentive and conference events that are cut back, and, rightly or wrongly, CSR has been in this category in the past. If it is back on the agenda then it is great news for all involved in corporate events and the impact of those events for clients and the communities visited.

Driving back from the airport I felt heartened by the IMEX experience, and in short, typically at trade shows you get all opinions from all sectors of the industry, and more often than not a mix of the good and not so good. This time round at IMEX I didn’t speak to anyone who had anything negative to say, and that was a first. Whether this is a sign that the green shoots have taken root and the outlook for the industry in the medium term is very healthy, or misplaced optimism, time will tell, but I know what I believe.

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