Even the biggest conferences are always looking for ways to improve. Weeks after IMEX Frankfurt wrapped up its first show since 2019 with 9,000 attendees in Europe and less than four months before the return of IMEX America to its new home at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer sat down at Meeting Professionals International (MPI) World Education Congress to talk about lessons learned. “The fundamentals are the same for both shows, but the venues and attendance are unique,” she said. “We are always looking to learn and adapt.”
One lesson learned from both Frankfurt 2022 and America in 2021 was that people want more focused learning tracks. In Europe, just over 200 sessions were offered on everything from “purposeful recovery and well-being to upskilling and diversity, equity and inclusion. “Generally, we offer 10 tracks, but we are narrowing that down with lots of exciting speakers and topics to help give people more clarity,” she said.
The education will still come in lots of different formats, including keynotes, seminars and campfires. One feature that was well-received in Frankfurt was the addition of an overflow area outside sessions where people can have one-on-one conversations with speakers. The research area focused on trends was also popular.
New at Frankfurt was a Listening Lab staffed by trained coaches where people could book 20 minutes to talk about personal or business issues with professional listeners instructed to ask probing questions. On the heels of MPI speakers talking about the power of listening, Bauer was pretty sure they had hooked into a trend of what people are craving right now.
The other trend Bauer noted is the sheer joy of being together that seems to happen at every industry event now. “We learned that people are just so happy to be back. As we look at the education programs and even the locations of the keynotes, we want to give more space for networking,” she said.
Hosted buyers are required to come with business and take appointments, but for the first time in Frankfurt, they didn’t have a minimum number of one-on-one appointments required. That gave them time to create experiences that work for them, including wandering the show floor and attending stand presentations to find out who is working at the destinations now and what is new, since so much has changed. “The mix of options allows people the opportunity to do fact-finding,” said Bauer.
A Unique Footprint
MESSE Frankfurt had its own challenge that turned into a golden opportunity. The venue is actually two halls, so Bauer’s team created two completely different experiences. People appreciated that one hall was busy and vibrant and business was getting done and the other one was relaxing, where they could be in a park atmosphere and get a bite to eat and hear birds sing or go into the well-being lounge or redesigned education space. But at Mandalay Bay Convention Center, everything is in one space, so it will require a different solution. “You have to think about the design element strategically based on the space available,” Bauer said.
This will be the second year in the new venue after moving from The Venetian Convention and Expo Center, where the event was held for the last decade. Last year was complicated by the fact that Covid restrictions meant opportunities to visit in person from IMEX Group headquarters in Hove, England, were few and far between.
Now that everyone has their bearings and access with measuring tapes, there will be some adjustments to the map. The People and Planet Village from Frankfurt will probably return adjacent to the Innovation Hub to showcase ways to run sustainable events, information about net-zero carbon initiatives and social responsibility activations all in one area, but there will probably be enhanced interactivity so people know what to do with the information. That could be in the form of campfire talks and additional educational elements.
One of the learnings from IMEX Frankfurt is that people loved the big broadcast studio on the show floor because they could see behind-the-scenes, but not many people tuned in to watch the show live from home, so it may not be back virtually in the same way. In Frankfurt, the team produced lots of short videos and social media. “We are learning the balance between the two things,” said Bauer.
Bauer is looking forward to a long future at Mandalay Bay, which is planning a renovation of the meeting space that will be complete by the 2023 IMEX America show. “Right now, the contract is through 2025, but we’re already talking about continuing,” she said.