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Carina Bauer

Photo: IMEX Group

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(Female) Leadership in a crisis: From the desk of Carina Bauer, CEO IMEX Group.

The joy of being back together

I’m now home after an exhilarating and exhausting trip to Las Vegas for IMEX America 2021 (#imexexhausted). Despite this being the 10th edition of the show, it was the first show that our team had run in over two years. Our last being in those halcyon days of late 2019, when COVID-19 was not part of our lexicon, and our biggest issues were…well – I can’t remember what we thought issues were in those days.

So, what have we learnt from this week – which felt momentous to us as an organisation and to the industry as a whole? Firstly, we learnt that it is absolutely possible to put on a successful, enjoyable and safe large-scale tradeshow (8,500 people attended) in today’s environment. We’d worked closely with our new venue, Mandalay Bay, and our host city on robust health and safety measurements:

  • Every person attending had to prove their vaccine status to enter and once in the halls masks were optional.
  • We did not require formal social distancing, but both we and our exhibitors took efforts to ensure that crowding was minimised.
  • On our part, we changed the opening hours of the show to ensure that people could flow into the halls over a period of hours (rather than minutes).
  • We implemented home badge printing, diary printing and electronic bank transfers for travel refunds to reduce queues; as well as doubling the size of food courts, education areas, lounges and perimeter aisles to give people healthy and comfortable space in all areas of the show.

The upshot? Despite 500 tests being performed in our on-site test center, not a single one was positive.

Carina Bauer at IMEX America in Las Vegas from 8 to 11 November 2021: We learnt that it is absolutely possible to put on a successful, enjoyable and safe large-scale tradeshow (8,500 people attended) in today’s environment. Photo: IMEX Group

That’s not to say that Covid-19 isn’t a factor or a concern. Although the feeling in the US was buoyant, I’m aware that different countries and cultures are having their own, unique experience of, and reaction to, living and doing business together in times of Covid. The current sentiment and behaviours in Germany are clearly in contrast to those in the US right now. Secondly, we learnt how desperately our industry has missed each other. Watching colleagues, friends and competitors from across the world re-unite on that first morning was a truly special, never to be forgotten experience. The relief, the hugs, the elbow bumps, the emotion of seeing each other again – in real life – and not, on a screen, proved (if proof was needed) why face to face experiences and events are so important.

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Our first keynote of the show – Dr Shimi Kang – explained the science behind these emotions and why face to face interactions are so important for our mental health. Those who believed that face to face events would be replaced by virtual events post-pandemic, will get a big surprise, when in fact the opposite happens. My prediction is that face to face events will be more prevalent, larger and more joyful in the years to come as people revel in coming back together and truly now understand what they lost when our industry was shutdown.

“My prediction is that face to face events will be more prevalent, larger and more joyful in the years to come as people revel in coming back together.“

Carina Bauer, CEO IMEX Group

Of course, that’s not to say that virtual and digital won’t have their place. The event tech suppliers have matured in this period and will increasingly play a central role in the design of all events – but tech, as it always has, will regain its place in delivering a better and extended experience, rather than the whole experience. But – and this gives us food for thought – IMEX America happened to take place in the same week as COP26 in Glasgow. If ever there was a spotlight on sustainability and the fundamental changes we need to make in our industry, it is now. Many of us have been advocating for this for many years, but now is really the time to act. Our industry must be at the forefront of making significant changes to the way we produce events, the materials we use and the focus on sustainable design in every area of our business.

What IMEX means to me now

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Make no mistake – we will be disrupted again if we do not come up with the solutions ourselves. The world is not going back from the pledges that were (almost) made in Glasgow and we had better be ready to deliver. The industry wide net-zero carbon pledge is a great start, but it will take all of our entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and adaptability to find the solutions to deliver truly regenerative events. So, what next? For our part, the IMEX team is both relieved to have run a safe and successful event and boosted by the enormous energy and momentum it generated as we look forward to IMEX in Frankfurt 2022. As we did in Las Vegas, we can’t wait to bring our global industry back together in Frankfurt, for our 20th edition of IMEX in Frankfurt. It will be a special moment for us all.

Save the dates for 2022

Photo: IMEX Group

IMEX 2022 will place from 26 to 28 April 28 2022 at Messe Frankfurt. IMEX America 2022 will place from 11 to 13 October 2022 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. https://www.imexexhibitions.com/

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