The 2022 edition of IMEX America sent a strong signal that the meetings and events industry is back and booming. Here are our takeaways from the show.
If IMEX America 2022, which just wrapped up in Las Vegas, is indicative of the industry, business is back and booming. The numbers tell the story. The show attracted over 12,000 attendees, a 45 percent increase compared to last year, and 40 percent of returning exhibitors took more booth space. The total number of qualified buyers is over 4,000, including 3,300 hosted by the show organizers.
The easing of travel restrictions, pent-up demand, and the industry’s desire for face-to-face interaction again all potentially contributed to the show’s success.
The numbers are very close to the previous pre-Covid pandemic records set in 2019. That year the show hosted approximately 13,500 attendees and 4,226 buyers (3,426 hosted). Last year, a show hailed as a vital sign of industry recovery, there were still 3,420 buyers (2,656 hosted) among 8,605 total participants. With the majority of shows across various industries finding it hard to rise above 65 percent of pre-Covid pandemic attendance numbers, this year’s show numbers are reassuring for an industry fighting its way back to the limelight.
“What pandemic?” joked Shelley Williams, director of global sales at Hard Rock International. “There is no other industry out there that can bounce back the way this industry has. We had incredible meetings with buyers here to book meetings, events, and incentives.”
For three days, the aisles at Mandalay Bay Convention Center were bustling with attendees on their way to appointments. The overarching theme was that everyone there was to do business, and exhibitors were thrilled. However, finding former connections and the appropriate decision-makers has been muddied by what has been termed the “great reshift.” Many exhibitors raved that IMEX America allowed them to build relationships with new people in instrumental roles.
“Great appointments, great partners, great industry,” said Lindsey Thuell, global account executive, ConferenceDirect. “Availability is getting hard out there, meetings are back, and rates are increasing right along with demand and costs, and IMEX helped with conversations with the right people.”
Excitement on the show floor was palpable, and attendees did their best to see as many suppliers as possible. “We’ve certainly all got our steps in this week,” quipped Ray Bloom, IMEX chairman. “The size of this year’s show is obviously a function of many in the industry being able to travel and plan meetings again and to do so with certainty. It’s been a long time coming, and although we produced a great show last year, this week felt like the big come-back we’ve all been waiting for.”
Although bookings were robust, they were also well thought-out. “We’ve heard they’re preparing RFPs in more detail and being more rigorous in their selection criteria,” said Bloom.
Some big wins include Tourism Ireland confirming approximately $10 million in bookings during the show, while Destination DC received a RFP for a significant event for the American Distilling Association in 2026.
“We knew IMEX would be a success, and it sure was. Caesars Entertainment had a large presence at the show, and our appointments were top-level. But, best of all, it was so great to all be together,” said Reina Herschdorfer, director of marketing for meetings and events for Caesars Entertainment.
Over 1,600 attendees participated in Smart Monday, powered by Meeting Professionals International (MPI), where they could catch up on industry trends, get professional headshots for free, and even decompress by petting comfort dogs. Some of the sessions were standing-room only.
Centered around conversation and collaboration, Skift Meetings Innovation Lab during Smart Monday brought together over 110 planners in roundtable discussions facilitated by event “scientists” that fostered connection and insight.
The IMEX America education program continued on the show floor at the Inspiration Hub, where speakers delivered more than 100 sessions over three days. All education sessions were categorized into four tracks: Respect for People and Planet, Future Self, Innovation and Creativity, and Event Planner Toolkit.
One session featured Carina Bauer, IMEX Group CEO, and Rafat Ali, Skift founder and CEO, discussing global trends, including how we live and work are impacting events, the importance of natural light in meetings spaces, and how technology is helping create a frictionless conference experience.
Work-life balance led to an exciting exchange between the two. “I miss the office, but I don’t miss going to the office. We used to fit life in between work. Now we fit work in between life,” said Ali.
They agreed that trusting and holding people accountable is key to successful leadership.
“From gathering on Event Design Summit Sunday, seeing Smart Monday come to life where we teamed up to design MPI’s World Education Congress 2027 ‘Destination Unknown’ to the dozens of valuable business exchanges on the trade show floor, we also launched new initiatives and reconnected with old and made new friends over this whirlwind experience,” said Ruud Janssen, DES, CMM, co-founder of Event Design Collective. “IMEX America is the trade show and extraordinary experience to meet our community of practice and get real business done for the year ahead. Thank you to all our partners and team IMEX. We’ll be back next year.”
Inclusion and Belonging
Creating inclusive environments and cultivating a sense of belonging is good for people and for business was one of the key messages at IMEX 2022, highlighted in the sessions A Voice for All during Smart Monday and the launch of The Neu Project that helps meeting planners create more welcoming events for neurodivergent communities.
“Not only does the data show that belonging is good for business, but as designers, we also need to do a better job of not asking people to leave their lived experience at the doors when they come to our events,” said the project’s founder and global events strategic solutions lead at Google, Megan Henshall.
Wellness by Design
A mindful and holistic approach to designing events, a must in the post-pandemic world, manifested in a refreshing wellness program that featured a series of mediation, goal-setting, and fitness sessions as well as an iconic IMEX run and comforting Be Well Lounge where attendees could decompress after all the activity on the show floor.
Overall, it was hard to underestimate the show’s success this year and its significance in providing the roadmap for future events.
“Two concepts I take from this week are belonging and freedom of choice. The first is about making sure everyone feels welcomed — that they genuinely belong at our events and that our designs include them,” said Bauer. “The second is a call for planners to let go. To break free of over-scheduling and a ‘more is more’ approach. We need to put people first, give them more choice, and pay more attention to what makes us all human.”
A celebratory mood prevailed during IMEX America. MPI Foundation Rendezvous at Drai’s sold out, the show’s largest networking event sponsored by Caesars Entertainment, with all proceeds benefiting the MPI Foundation.
One of the most talked about exhibits at the show was Encore’s “Break Free” interactive and immersive experience. Beyond an audiovisual showcase, the quasi-museum installation encouraged conversation, deep thought, and inspiration. It uniquely told the story of IMEX’s impressive sustainability initiatives by asking thought-provoking questions as participants were led through a sensory experience that had them check their bearings after a jolting virtual rollercoaster ride. The grand finale led to an opportunity for champagne-infused networking with Encore’s top management. All-in-all, a memorable experience that encouraged every participant to be a champion of change.
Destinations International (DI) announced its new Destination Booking Agreement (DBA). It also launched a new toolkit that establishes mutually agreeable terms to protect both the planner and the destination. “The need for CVBs and business events strategists to come together to create best practices for destination booking agreement guidelines has been an ongoing conversation for our industry,” said Don Welsh, president and CEO of DI. “Destination International’s Large Market Roundtable has done great work to take the lead on this thought leadership that will ultimately enhance our entire industry moving forward.”
MGM Resorts International took advantage of having the industry gathered together to unveil the $100 million remodel of Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s 2.1 million-square-foot convention center. “We listened to feedback from meeting planners over recent years and are confident this refreshed and upgraded space will exceed their needs and expectations in every way,” said Ernest Stovall, vice president of sales for Mandalay Bay.
Destinations from all over the world shared their latest victories and updated their promotional strategies. For example, greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau officials excitedly offered details about its rebranding and Singapore Exhibition & Convention Bureau about how it became a leader in sustainable tourism.
Abu Dhabi Convention and Exhibition Bureau and Embratur (the Brazilian Tourist Board), were two destinations to hold high-level meetings at the show to attract desirable major business events. Mubarak Al Shamisi, director of Abu Dhabi Convention & Exhibition Bureau, highlighted the Emirate’s innovative facilities and recent winning bids for major events. Silvio Nascimento, Embratur president was keen to highlight Foz do Iguaçu’s impressive facilities and rise to being the third-largest Brazilian destination for meetings and events, after Sao Paul and Rio de Janeiro. He was also keen to highlight Brazil’s unique nature while dismissing the country’s sustainability challenges as fake news.
Event Tech Presence
On the tech side, MeetingPlay + Aventri + eventcore announced its rebrand as “Stova.” Born from the phrase “standing ovation,” Stova is an all-in-one event technology solution. The united brand had one of the largest stands in the event tech area and hosted a popular reception off the show floor to wrap up the show’s first day.
Webex Events (formerly Socio) showcased a large standalone booth. The team was excited to share new features and how a deeper integration at all levels with parent company Cisco is now effectively bringing in high-level enterprise accounts.
Cvent was the other company to showcase a large booth, consistent with its regular participation at IMEX America and IMEX in Frankfurt in recent years. Cvent founder and CEO Reggie Aggarwal was present at the show after wrapping up Cvent CONNECT Europe 2022 the week prior.
Most event tech brands opted for modest-sized booths, either 10×10 or 10×20 setups. The only exception is Community Brands, a large but less-known event provider with a strong focus on associations, nonprofits, and K-12 schools.
One notable absence was Hopin. The event tech unicorn went from having the most prominent event booth in 2021 to being a no-show this year.
There were some reported misses. Many found the show app to be difficult to use. The price of food and beverage was also an issue of contention for many. Long lines at lunchtime and navigating the long and narrow show aisles also made the list of problems to address for future events.
Dahlia El Gazzar, the founder of DAHLIA+Agency, has a recommendation for the future. “IMEX should use influencers as sherpas for first-timers who need someone to take them around and introduce them to people, so they have a sense of belonging and return with other first-timers,” she suggests. “Overall, though, I felt IMEX was lit. Literally. The energy level and attendees trying to meet as many people as possible. It was also charged with first-time attendees trying to find where they fit. It was evident that they wanted to soak it all in — connections, content, conversations, and experiences.”
With successful shows in Frankfurt and Las Vegas, does IMEX have plans to expand into Asia? “We have been invited to place shows elsewhere in the world, but we are going to concentrate on IMEX America and IMEX Frankfurt. You can take this as a guarantee,” said Bloom.
IMEX America 2023 will take place Oct. 17-19 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.