In our latest micebook ‘talks’ session, we caught up with Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, on the IMEX Frankfurt cancellation, IMEX America, the future of trade shows, and the new PlanetIMEX platform. Here’s some of the key takeaways from the session…
IMEX Frankfurt cancellation
It was a hard decision and it was made very fast. Today, it would be a very obvious decision that the event (due to be held in 3 weeks’ time) would be cancelled. But back in early March, we felt pretty confident that May would be fine. And indeed, Messe Frankfurt were only cancelling events from March-May at that time.
So, we sent out a message on 3 March that we were confident that IMEX Frankfurt would take place. But in the days that followed, things seemed to change almost every hour in terms of events cancelling and government guidelines changing. Over that following weekend, it became clear to us that we would probably have to cancel, and we made the announcement on Wednesday 11 March. We could see it was untenable for us because of the uncertainty over whether it would be allowed to go ahead, and we knew we couldn’t guarantee the hosted buyers for our exhibitors. What we didn’t want to do was cancel at the last minute, because that’s the worst-case scenario for everyone.
IMEX America plans
At this moment in time, we are slightly hopeful that we might be able to go ahead but we are not wholly confident. It’s a case of watching and waiting at the moment. We are doing all the work behind the scenes and talking to our partners and intermediaries in the States to try and get a sense of what is going on there.
We feel like it’s a little bit early to call it now, so will see how things transpire over the next 4-6 weeks. Hopefully, by then we’ll have a clearer picture of what is happening with international travel and event restrictions beyond the summer and into Q3 and Q4.
If it does go ahead, we are looking at what measures we might have to put in place, such as whether we’d need to employ a company to bring in sanitation measures or medical testing, and how we would limit the points during the show where you have big crowds. For example, do we host people in waves instead? Those are the things we are starting to think about and map out, but I don’t know what that will look like.
Any decision we make about the show needs to take into account what is happening politically, what is safe to do, and what the sentiment is like. Will people be ready at that point and feel comfortable about travelling? The general sentiment from all the people I have spoken to is that they really want the show, and they really want it in September, as it’s a beacon of hope for the industry. If it doesn’t go ahead, we’d obviously prefer to postpone than cancel but that is dependent on being able to get new dates among other factors.
Future of industry trade shows
In terms of the future of large trade shows, what we are seeing generally is that there is a lot of demand in many sectors. You have to create value for the participants, sponsors and exhibitors. If you do create value, you have a good chance of being successful.
What we are focusing more on is how to have mass event but create a very personal experience or journey through it.
There is always going to be a value to bringing an entire industry together – our show is very business focused and delivering on those business opportunities. Bu increasingly, it was increasingly never enough to just do that, which is why more recently we have been very focused on trying to drive specialised experiences and education. In Frankfurt, we were working on a total overhaul of Hall 9 to deliver more of that.
As soon as we cancelled Frankfurt, we started talking about what we could do online. We decided early on that we wanted to gift something back to the industry we love while continuing our commitment to providing high quality education, business and networking value. Rather than switch to a one-off online event, we created PlanetIMEX, which has been designed as a destination in its own right and will feature 3D, interactive islands.
Visitors to PlanetIMEX will get free access to a variety of content and activities on three islands: A beach-themed Community Island; A forest-inspired Education Island and a Networking Island characterised by canyons, mountains and valleys. Although the execution is light-hearted, each island has a serious purpose. The intention is to keep the spirit of IMEX alive by allowing visitors to explore, reconnect, talk future business and continue learning in the company of friends and colleagues from the global business events community.
PlanetIMEX goes live on 6 May when both Community Island and Education Island open to industry visitors. Education programming starts on EduMonday 11 May with a day of education and interactive content, while Tuesday 12 May will be IMEX Community Day, with content delivered by a range of IMEX’s association and other partners. On Thursday 14 May IMEX Introductions will encourage industry buyers and suppliers to explore potential new business relationships and spark up one-to-one conversations.
It’s been a learning curve and we are interested in feedback. If it’s successful, there is no reason why it can’t live on throughout the year.
I think our new normal is going to last a while. We are not going to come out of lockdown and suddenly start holding large events again. It’s going to be a gradual comeback.
But what we can be doing during this period of lockdown is focusing on that advocacy piece, which is very important.
The cancellation of big events like Mobile World Congress and SXSW has made the general public more aware of the impact that these events had on their destinations and communities and given us more attention at government level. At the same time, many people in our industry including lots of hotels and venues have pivoted and are helping with the crisis response.
While we’ve got that attention, it’s an opportunity for us to help governments around the world better understand the value of our industry.
I strongly believe face to face events haven’t gone away. They have gone away right now but I think the desire to meet is going to be strong and there will be pent up demand for meeting face-to-face once this period is over. We may get better at delivering virtual events in the meantime, but the value of face-to-face can never be replaced by digital.
Watch the interview via our VOICE Forum.