by Leo Jakobson | October 22, 2012
The rousing success of the second IMEX America, which took place in Las Vegas earlier this month, showed that last year’s inaugural show was no fluke. But numbers like 28 percent more exhibitors and 20 percent more buyers than 2011 can’t describe the energy of the show floor, and the level of enthusiasm of attendees. Even Thursday Oct. 11, the third and closing day of the show, saw brisk traffic and a lot of appointments on the floor.
“We’ve had so many clients coming to see us with specific pieces of business in mind,” said Lynn Pavony, director of incentive sales for Four Season Resorts and Hotels towards the end of the day on Wednesday. “The hosted buyer appointments were not just a big hello and hug. It is businessfocused, people are coming with RFPs in hand. When [our property in] Budapest gets four leads today, I am happy,” she said, adding that she expects that kind of result for a top destination like Maui, but Budapest is smaller and more of a niche destination.
“We came away with an incredible number of leads,” said Serene Tan, regional director, Americas, of the Singapore Tourism Board. “The show passed our expectations.”
But beyond that there was a sense of optimism on the show floor that is not quite as cautious as it was last year, although no one issuggesting incentive programs or meetings are becoming excessive, or that companies aren’t keeping an eye on the bottom line.
“Companies running top-end programs know they have to take care of their top people,” said Chris Gabaldon, chief sales and marketing officer of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.
There were 2,400 hosted buyers and some 1,700 non-hosted meeting planners and buyers in attendance, as well as 2,513 exhibitors. They met for some 40,000 appointments, up 15,000 from 2011. As a result, the show will move to a larger hall in the Sands Expo Convention Center in 2013, Ray Bloom, IMEX’s CEO, announced.
USTA Issues Three Challenges
A new feature of the 2012 IMEX America show was the Political Advocacy Forum, kicked off by Roger Dow, president and CEO of theU.S. Travel Association, who issued what he termed a “call to action” to the meetings, incentives, conventions, and events (MICE) industry as a whole.
“Our industry was caught on our heels in 2008 and 2009,” Dow said. “The world turned on us. We didn’t have the numbers [about the contributions the MICE industry makes to the U.S. economy] that we should have had. We can never let that happen again.”
Dow challenged everyone in the meetings industry to take three actions next year:
First, reach out to the U.S. Travel Association. “We need to hear from you about what you see as the issues that are important,” Dow said. “Let us know what’s happening and we will act.”
Second, establish relations with your local members ofcongress. “They don’t want to hear from me, they want to hear from you,” Dow said, noting that constituents’ voices have by far the most impact. “You are more important.”
Third, sign up for the Vote Travel campaign to help strengthen the voice of the travel industry in Washington, D.C. “Text ‘Vote’ to 877877,” Dow said. “We will sign you up. You won’t get spam, just information about what’s going to affect you and your business.”
These steps will help inform and remind the country’s political leadership that travel industry contributes $1.9 trillion to the U.S. economy, and is responsible for 14 million jobs – jobs which by their very nature cannot be outsourced overseas, Dow added. 
But the MICE industry’s real contribution to the U.S. economy goes a lot deeper than that in ways that are hard to measure, said Rod Cameron, executive director, development, of the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC) and Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC), who spoke later in the Forum.
“We are an economic engine,” Cameron said. “These events are not just about generating spending in communities. They are strategic tools to advance innovations, promote knowledge transfers, enable new investment.”