by Deanna Ting | October 21, 2013
2013 IMEX America
IMEX America 2013 welcomed a record number of hosted buyers and exhibitors from throughout the meeting, incentive, convention, and exhibition (MICE) industry.

When IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer told Incentive’s sister publication, Successful Meetings, that the third edition of IMEX America had seen “tremendous growth,” she was right. Numbers released by IMEX Group Chairman Ray Bloom on the third and final day of the conference and trade show demonstrated just that.

At the show’s closing press conference, Bloom said that hosted buyer numbers increased from 2,400 last year to nearly 2,700. The number of non-hosted attendees at the show was close to last year’s total at approximately 1,700.  The show welcomed 2,694 exhibitors, and increase from last year’s 2,413.

The number of appointments held between buyers and exhibitors increased by 27 percent over the previous year, with a total of 50,000 individual appointments taking place and 9,500 buyers taking part in group appointments. During the conference, Bloom noted that one buyer actually made a single booking for 10,000 room nights in Austin during the show.

“No one can doubt the seriousness with which our exhibitors now take the business opportunities available to them here,” said Bloom. “The quality, creativity, and visual impact of many of the booths has been remarkable. Their investment is clear to see, and this clearly down to their belief in the return they can achieve from being that the show.” 

Paul Gordon, vice president of sales for Rymax Marketing Services said that he was pleased with IMEX America and that the show has proven its importance as a major trade show for his organization. “[IMEX America], for us, is a planner’s show … I think that IMEX America and PPAI should continue as they are,” said Gordon. “All business today is very complex and when you have segmentation and concentration like this, with these two shows, this segmentation strategy is very healthy for us. I don’t think it’s overkill to have two big industry shows.”

Michael Dominguez, senior vice president, corporate hotel sales, for MGM Resorts International, and chair of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), also reflected on the show on its final day, saying, “As good as IMEX was when it launched in 2011, there’s a definite change in the energy of our industry.” He added, “We’re in a much better place and this show is really bringing buyers and suppliers together. It’s so indicative of the where the industry is going to see that everyone is here.”

A Focus on Incentive Travel
Of the buyers and exhibitors in attendance, there were a large number who focused on the incentive market, in particular, especially with regard to incentive travel programs. 

Milton Segarra-Pancorbo, president and CEO of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, told that he is working with the Puerto Rico Tourism Company to build a “united front” to offer incentive organizations and planners an opportunity to “bring back business to Puerto Rico in a different way, as never before” with different tools developed to cater specifically to each group market. 

At Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Regional VP of Sales for the Americas, Trina Camacho-London, said that Hyatt is seeing increased interest among both meeting and incentive planners for its all-inclusive properties and its Andaz-branded hotels.

Mark Theis, director of group sales in North America for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, said that the incentive market was “stable” and that Hawaii was “still very hot” in terms of demand, as were other resort destinations. Growing destinations of interest for incentive programs, he added, include Asia (Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, and India), the Middle East. 

Site Focuses on Education 
Site’s newly appointed Chief Staff Officer, Kevin Hinton, said that the incentive travel organization is putting most of its focus toward education and chapter involvement in the coming year. “The incentive marketplace is a part of MICE, but it’s very specific, and the relationships in that business, and the connection to our brand, are very strong, and we have great things in the area of education,” Hinton explained. That includes a new certification program, CIS, for certified incentive specialists, as well as a certification for cruising incentive specialists, for which Site partnered with Cruise Lines International Association to execute. At IMEX America, 35 people were awarded with the CIS. 

“We also have a project management certification course that looks at each event as a project,” Hinton added. “It’s all about having a more end-to-end education plan,” says Hinton. “I believe in the CMP [certified meeting professional] and it’s great, but we’re partnering with other organizations that have more of an incentive audience.” He later added, “the MICE industry is coming together in a very unique way, and I’m excited about Site being at the table.”

Incentive Merchandise Trends
At Rymax Marketing Services, Inc., Gordon said that, with regard to incentive merchandise, “brands with high brand quality are what’s really driving the [incentive] industry right now.” He says that a trade show like IMEX America that combines meetings and events with incentives “makes sense” as more meetings incorporate incentive merchandise. “We’ve always been in that space,” he explains. “Our clients who hold events want rewards to be presented in a more interactive way now, and there are more on-site activities at meetings that tie into products,” Gordon said. He also added that electronics remain extremely popular, as do more high-end or upscale fashion brands such as Versace, Kate Spade, Furla, and Coach.

Looking Ahead
While many major industry players attended the show, IMEX America also welcomed Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, albeit virtually, to participate in the inaugural IMEX and US Travel Association Policymakers Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 16. “At a challenging time for the U.S. government, we were delighted that the Mayor of Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray, could join us by live satellite link from the U.S. Capital,” Bloom remarked. “He spoke to around 60 industry and political leaders, including Mayor David Cross of Santa Fe and former mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman. The Lieutenant Governor of Nevada, Brian K. Krolicki, also attended the Forum lunch.” 

In an earlier conversation prior to the closing press conference, Bloom noted that government regulations and policies are one if the biggest challenges to the meeting industry, which is why it was crucial to launch the new Policymakers Form at the show. IMEX America also hosted its third Executive Meetings Forum, which invited 30 top corporate meeting planners from North America, as well as the 100th Future Leaders Forum, a joint initiative between IMEX, MPI, and MCI.

Education during the show was provided by IMEX America’s Strategic Partner and Education Provider, MPI. During the closing press conference, MPI President and CEO Paul Van Deventer, said that more than 1,200 participants had taken part in the show’s Smart Monday education programming.

Looking forward to next year’s IMEX America, Bloom closed the press conference by saying, “This has clearly been another year of significant growth. The new facilities and new halls we now occupy here at the Sands Expo have proved a huge asset in supporting the show’s expansion, and allowing us to deliver strong business, networking, and educational events this week. We look forward to returning here for many years to come. There can be no better home for IMEX America.”

Next year’s IMEX America will take place from Oct. 14-16 in Las Vegas.