On June 10, IMEX Group Chairman Ray Bloom and CEO Carina Bauer announced that they had made “the difficult decision” to cancel IMEX America 2020, planned to take place in Las Vegas at the Sands Expo, Sept. 15–17.
“Our industry has been impacted heavily by the global lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we know how many of you were looking forward to coming together again in Las Vegas this fall,” Bloom and Bauer said in the press release. “We’re acutely aware that since lockdown began, IMEX America 2020 has come to represent a beacon of hope for the entire business events community. We assure you, no one is more disappointed than the IMEX team that we can’t fulfill that expectation. However, we must also be realistic about the current reality.”
Three main reasons were given for the cancellation. First, with corporate travel bans still in place and uncertainty over continued global travel restrictions, IMEX could not guarantee ROI for their exhibitors by delivering a high-quality, large-scale hosted buyer program.
Also of concern was the issue of timing, in terms of the ramp-up period required to produce the show. By canceling now, Bloom and Bauer said, “we’re still able to reduce the risk and exposure for our exhibitors, partners, and suppliers.”
Finally, there continues to be too much uncertainty around when global travel restrictions may be lifted, considering that more than one-third of IMEX America’s 13,000-plus participants typically come to Las Vegas from outside North America.
“We believe strongly in the resilience, flexibility, and creativity of our industry,” Bloom and Bauer said in the press release. “We’re optimistic that meeting face to face will play an important role in helping our economies and all the industries we serve to regenerate and recover. We’re certain that globally there’s a great deal of pent-up demand to come together for both business and for pleasure, once it is safe to do so. We will meet again and, like you, we can’t wait for that moment to come.”
In the meantime, IMEX said it has plans to bolster its online platform, PlanetIMEX. Convene spoke to Bauer about that and the decision to cancel the show.
Can you share if the timing of this announcement was made around your event cancellation insurance policy?
We don’t know about the insurance. We timed the announcement based on what we felt was right for the industry and when we needed to make decisions for us and for the industry — in terms of when we needed to open registration and our exhibitors would need to book stand space. So, the decision was made based on those practical requirements to run a show. And the reality — which policy makers are hopefully understanding a little bit better — is that a trade show or an event has a really significant lead time. Insurers need to understand that as well. You can’t wait until the week before to see whether you can do an event of more than 50 people in a destination. So, we don’t know what the insurance situation is at this point, it’s still up in the air.
At the moment, you can’t have any events with over 50 people in Las Vegas. Who knows if that might change next week — and I certainly hope for my friends and all our partners in Las Vegas that it does change significantly quickly. But of course, as we’ve all faced over the past few months, there’s no certainty on these timelines.
What has been the reaction to your announcement of IMEX America’s cancellation?
I think everybody has really said the same thing, which is obviously they are desperately disappointed like we are, and that they are really are going to miss the show, seeing their colleagues in the industry, and doing business, but that they think it’s the right decision and totally understand why it was made. That’s been the overriding message, whether talking to our friends and our partners in Las Vegas, industry associations, or our exhibitors.
And I think from the exhibitors’ perspective, it is about having certainty because they need certainty to plan their budgets and their investments. And so, again, they’re disappointed because it’s a shame, the show has always given them great value. But I think they are thankful to know that if we can’t guarantee that value to them, that we’re not putting them or their budgets or their investment at risk.
That’s really what it came down to when we canceled IMEX in Frankfurt months ago. We needed to look after the investment they make in the show. And at the end of the day, we looked at that for the long term, and we want to make sure that when participants come to one of our shows — whether an exhibitor, a hosted buyer, or an industry association — that it’s an outstfranbe able to guarantee that.
What was different about the decision to cancel IMEX Frankfurt vs. IMEX America?
I guess the pace is probably the best way I can describe it. With the Frankfurt decision, at the beginning of one week we sent out a message — I think it was the third of March — saying that the show is definitely moving ahead. And by the beginning of the next week, we were talking to all the industry leaders, saying we’re not sure that the show can go ahead, and we canceled it.
I think it is the shock at that point — the situation changed so rapidly that it was much more emotional from that perspective. We hadn’t done it before, the entire situation was new and was moving so fast. Trying to make big decisions in that period, it felt a little bit like being in a washing machine or a vortex. You didn’t know whether the decision you made one day would still be valid the next day.
You’re making judgment calls that in 10 weeks’ time, the situation may have improved or grown worse. And none of us are scientists and our governments didn’t know at that point, you know? At the point that we were making a decision about Frankfurt, there was no lockdown in the U.K. We were still in the office. So, it was difficult in a different way.
This time, we’ve been able to learn from what happened with Frankfurt. And also, we’ve just had more time to talk to partners over the course of many weeks and assess the situation, talk to our intermediaries, see whether we thought we could pull off a hosted-buyer program, speak to the exhibitors, see whether they were still able to commit to the show. Just having that extra time has made it obviously not an easier decision, but maybe provided a calmer background.
Switching gears from the live event to your digital platform, PlanetIMEX, what has been the reaction so far?
Outstanding, actually. When we canceled the Frankfurt show, within about a week we had decided we wanted to do something online, something a bit different. We created PlanetIMEX — the reaction was outstanding and it took us by surprise. People were so excited that we were trying something new and that we were trying to bring the community together and they really reacted well. On that first day, EduMonday Live, I logged on at 10:00 a.m. when Ray and I did our welcome. And there were people on from all over the world saying “hi” and they were doing selfies and posting on social media. It was an amazing buzz, actually, and really did bring people together.
Many people from all over world took part in the education, Brella [PlanetIMEX’s platform for one-on-one conversations], and business appointments, and the IMEX Run. It was a great success. We had one overriding kind of aim, which was to give a gift back to the community. And so we felt good about that, and we know that people really enjoyed it. We’ve had amazing feedback. Now we’re debriefing about that, working out what went well, what we’d like to improve, and how we could make it a little bit different and unique for IMEX America. What we’ll probably try to do is play with some of the formats a little bit more, try to experiment, and showcase what can be done online. We’ll be putting our efforts toward making sure that it’s really valuable for people.
Do you anticipate that you’ll be making digital a part of the live experience at future shows?
I think this idea of some kind of hybrid event — honestly, PCMA’s Convening Leaders has been at the forefront of doing this for a number of years. These things aren’t new, but all of us have to look at how we can incorporate digital and hybrid into our events in a way that makes sense — whether for us that’s more focused on the content side versus the business appointments. Every one of us as an event organizer needs to look to what is at the center of our event, what’s its purpose, and if there’s any element that would benefit from both an online and in-person audience.
We have already started discussing that, but at this stage, it’s hard to say which part of it we might digitize. Certainly, we are still very focused on that live, in-person event because, if there’s one thing we have learned from PlanetIMEX, it’s that it’s hard to get that sort of engagement in the one-to-one interactions.
We had good number of one-to-one interactions, in the region of maybe 1,500, through the Brella product appointment system. We were pretty happy with that, but when you compare that to a live show where 70,000 appointments are made, and that doesn’t even count ad hoc meetings, it’s not comparable. That was our first outing with it, and I’m sure we could get better with that. But for me, that will be always an enhancement, not an “instead of.”