In November, I attended the IMEX America trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. IMEX is billed as “the largest trade show in North America for the meetings and events industry”, and this year, even in the midst of the pandemic, was no different. Held in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, IMEX was as popular as ever, with more than 3,300 buyers, 2,200 exhibiting companies, and over 50,000 total appointments made. The event provided a glimpse—and a reminder—of what corporate events can, and should be.
Of course, the pandemic was a major element of the event. Proof of vaccination was required, but masking was optional, and enhanced health and safety protocols were in place. In general—despite the large number of attendees—the event felt safe, given the size of the convention center, and everyone I came into contact with was respectful of each others’ level of comfort with masking and social distancing. While the term “the new normal” has become a bit overused, this certainly felt like a glimpse of what the future may hold for the entire industry.
Overall, my experience at the event was hugely positive. There were some fantastic educational sessions on integrating sustainability into events, and these reinforced my belief in the value and impact that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can have in corporate events, meetings, and incentive travel.
It was also great to see longtime partners and establish new vendor relationships. While the convenience of virtual meetings can’t be ignored, there’s something about a face-to-face meeting with a partner that is just more productive when it comes to establishing new relationships and strengthening existing ones.
Some other important takeaways from the event:
Rekindling Old Connections
While at the trade show, I ran into representatives from the Aruba Convention Bureau and De Palm Tours (DMC). It was a very special reunion as I had done my first large incentive program since COVID with them in May of 2021 and we did our first CSR initiative as part of that program, with which they had both been so helpful. The Aruba Convention Bureau was actually showing pictures from the initiative on their presentation slide loop at the booth. More on that CSR initiative (and other topics) can be found here.
Meeting New Colleagues
I was joined at IMEX by a new colleague of mine, Allison Flint Lenzi. Despite having worked together for months leading up to the event, we had never actually met one another in person. This seems like a quintessential pandemic experience, and one that I’m sure will be familiar to many of you. IMEX proved to be the perfect opportunity for Allison and I to finally “meet” and get to know one another in the three-dimensional world.
Making The Most of an Opportunity
Every year, IMEX hosts a “fun run” for all attendees. Although I had attended IMEX for a number of years, I had never participated in this event. However, realizing that these kinds of opportunities—to get out and meet new people, explore a new city, spend time on my own health and wellness, and enjoy the outdoors—have become far less common, I decided that this was the year I would join in. It proved to be a worthwhile experience, one in which connections were made, smiles were shared and heart rates were boosted.
Doing Good Behind the Scenes
Another highlight of the trade show was the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of Mandalay Bay. During the tour, I was able to witness the tremendous recycling operations that the hotel has undertaken. For example, used coffee grounds were being recycled into fertilizer—in just three months, 12 tons of coffee grounds had already been redirected from landfills. Also on the tour, I learned about the hotel’s initiative to donate food leftover from large functions, an impressive logistic feat and one that tied into a recent CSR food insecurity project we organized in Puerto Vallarta.
Ultimately, the general atmosphere at IMEX was refreshing. People seemed genuinely happy to be connecting with one another again, and there was a feeling in the air that travel is indeed on its way back (although it might feel and/or look different). The element of personal connections, live and in-person, was something that everyone has clearly been missing. Life isn’t meant to be lived virtually, and studies have shown that our mental health has suffered as we’ve been unable to meet one another face-to-face.
Of course, the same can be said for business in general, and the meetings and corporate events industry in particular. Although people are now more comfortable and familiar with attending virtual meetings and events, still more than three-quarters feel that in-person meetings are more effective. My experience at IMEX reaffirmed this belief. Now, more than ever, these types of trade shows, conferences, and other corporate get-togethers are vital, both for those who participate in them and for the corporate culture of the hosting organizations. As our everyday face-to-face interactions continue to be limited, there’s the question of what’s being lost.
What’s the value of face-time (no, not that FaceTime)? Perhaps now we need to take advantage of those few instances—be they once-a-year or once-a-quarter corporate events—when we can get together and connect with the people we work with, with those in our industry, with our customers, partners, salespeople, and employees. IMEX reminded me that these business relationships are stronger and more effective in person, and that this type of event can be successful when health and safety are kept top-of-mind.