IMEX America is the largest trade show in the U.S. for the global meetings, events and incentive travel industry. The 11th edition of IMEX America, held from October 11-13 in Las Vegas this year, heralded a welcome return for the global meetings, events and incentive travel industry. Over 12,000 people attended, including buyers and exhibitors, making it the biggest showing since IMEX began in 2003.
There was much optimism around the industry, with seventy-seven percent of respondents rating their optimism at “8” or above on a scale of 1 to 10 (up from 71 percent last year).
After four days of meetings, presentations, education programs and specialist sessions, here are six key takeaways from the event:
- Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI+B)
The benefits of creating inclusive environments and cultivating a sense of belonging were highlighted at IMEX America 2022. Close to nine in 10 respondents (87 percent) said their organizations were actively planning to incorporate DEI into their meetings and events. There were different strategies for achieving this depending on the region: North America championed choosing minority speakers, emcees and entertainment; Europe focused on providing virtual attendance options to lower barriers to entry and participation; Latin America focused on accessibility; and Asia Pacific highlighted using minority-owned suppliers.
IMEX also saw the launch of The Neu Project powered by Google Experience Institute (Xi). The Neu Project was co-created with a global neurodiverse community of event leaders, designers and consultants to empower event professionals to design events that are more considerate and inclusive of all neurotypes.
Megan Henshall, the project’s founder and global events strategic solutions lead at Google, spoke at the seminar and launch: “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.”
- Lean staff remains a challenge
Staffing still remains the biggest challenge in the meetings and events space, and particularly with hotel industry, which is struggling to match the levels of service seen before the pandemic.
Interestingly, business hotels are bearing the brunt of this challenge. There has been a shortage of labor since the hospitality industry went from furloughs and layoffs during the height of the pandemic back to “business as usual” in many places, all happening over the course of a year. Hiring remains a challenge, with 69% of respondents saying that they were experiencing difficulty filling job vacancies at their organizations.
So much of event planning is about being able to anticipate – guest list sizes, budgets and expenditures, venue and vendor availability, etc. However, staffing shortages are having a cascading effect on being able to anticipate effectively.
In a recent survey, nearly half of hospitality industry workers have already or are planning to quit. This makes is difficult for venues to provide services, limiting their ability to ensure success in activities from catering to front desk duties. One solution is to reach out to vendors for support with functions that can be automated and streamlined, like billing.
- With staffing shortages come service level impacts
Not surprisingly, with staff levels down across the board and hiring challenges, service levels are negatively impacted. Meeting and event professionals claim to be experiencing worse customer service than prior to the pandemic. Planners cite restaurants (73%) and hotels (72%) as two segments in which they’re experiencing the most significant decline in service quality.
In the meetings and events space, planners are struggling with limited resources and are stretched to meet the business timeline demands for RFPs and operations management. Staff shortages can have an impact on in-person and group incentive travel events. Experienced meeting planners have the right connections, experience, and creativity to get things done. Challenging situations due to short staffing can’t always be avoided, but there are ways to minimize their impact.
A newly released study by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) surveyed over 500 hoteliers in May 2022 and found that nearly all of the survey respondents (97%) experienced staffing shortages, while almost half (49%) experienced severe staffing shortages.
Flexible technology is one popular solution for hotels to implement tech-driven operating efficiencies. Smaller teams are empowered through automation, which frees up employee bandwidth while allowing them to focus more on interacting and communicating with their guests.
- Demand impacting contracts and rates
As demand continues to grow for in-person meetings, high compression and quick turnaround times for contracts can result. Increased rates are also playing a part, particularly for group business.
Last month, Destinations International (the world’s largest resource for destination organizations and convention and visitors bureaus) introduced its new Destination Booking Agreement (DBA), along with the launch of a toolkit that establishes mutually agreeable terms to protect both the destination and the business events strategist. This will allow destinations to itemize dates, rates, space, and any incentives or concessions offered to clients to secure their business.
Sustainability in travel industry continues to be more than just a buzzword, and sustainability remains a priority among meetings and event planners. In fact, sustainability is fast becoming a corporate mandate rather than a trending topic. Four out of five (80%) of respondents from the say their organization took sustainability into account when planning meetings and events, and 76% have a defined sustainability meetings program strategy in place.
Sustainability means lot of things, and this is being actioned from location choices with the smallest carbon footprint to certified venues to food, and beverage choices that avoid carbon emissions. One of the leaders in this is the International Convention Center (ICC) in Sydney, Australia, with a legacy program to bolster the environment and give back to the local community though a ‘carbon calculator’. 2023 will see a year where being environmentally conscious is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but a necessity.
IMEX America 2022 included several insights; the six key takeaways shared above are only the beginning. Here are some additional learnings from the conference:
- If IMEX America 2022 is indicative of the travel 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.
- Demand for International is on track. Domestic USA events are through the roof, and international demand is almost back at 2019 levels.
- Planners are better prepared. Planners have gained tons of knowledge over the last two years. Also, planners are very vigilant on processes and efficiency improvements.
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