72 hours of updates from the largest meetings industry conference in the world

Editor’s note: The following was written in real-time from interviews conducted on the tradeshow floor at IMEX America 2023 each day with the most recent at the top.

Day 3

IMEX Day 3 Exhibitor Video Updates

See you next year IMEX signThursday marked the close of the 12th IMEX America in Las Vegas with a press conference and a unifying ceremony from Rev. Maya Jaguar. First, the press conference. We learned from IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer that almost 15,000 people were on the show floor at Mandalay Bay Convention Center. More than 5,000 were buyers (more than 4,000 hosted buyers). She extrapolated that the all-time-record number of attendees—up from 12,800 last year and a similar number in Frankfurt, Germany earlier in the year—was a sign that the meetings sector has made a fast, robust comeback. She included short and long-lead business, incentive trips and citywides in that category. The insights are based on feedback from more than 80,000 pre-scheduled meetings in three days and 3,000 meetings on the fly.

IMEX Rendezvous red lights
MPI Foundation Rendezvous at IMEX America

Drew Holmgreen, chief brand officer at Meeting Professionals International (MPI), reported that 1,000 unique attendees attended 30 Smart Monday sessions, a number he called “a big increase” from last year. More than 2,000 people attended education sessions in the Inspiration Hub, some of which were standing-room only.

Steve Hill, president and CEO of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, pointed out that the success of the event went beyond the numbers. “It’s not just size, but quality and that is the result of the conference taking place where business and fun happen. We think it is better when the two happen together,” he said.

Holmgreen testified to the truth of that marriage when he reported that for the second year in a row, MPI Foundation’s fundraiser, Rendezvous at Drai’s Nightclub in Cromwell sold out at 2,500 people and raised $320,000 for scholarships, grants and funds for local chapters.

Behavior Tracking and Accessibility Improvements

A new technology stack and app by Expoplatform, an AI-powered smart event platform implemented in Frankfurt and tweaked for the Las Vegas event, tracked where attendees went and who they met with so the trade show floor can be improved based on behavior analytics in the future, according to Bauer. She anticipates more personalized location-based messaging for a start.

Read More: Lessons From Frankfurt to Look for at IMEX America

One area of focus was on improving inclusion with an accessibility guide published pre-event. Bauer explained that with the “human nature talking point,” content was designed to mobilize around positive change.

Investing in the Future

IMEX press conference

Stephanie Glanzer, chief sales officer and senior vice president at MGM Resorts International, pointed to the energy on the tradeshow floor and the excitement happening all over the city as proof that the intention to be face-to-face is there.

Las Vegas is making room to welcome everyone back. Over $100 million was spent over the last year at Mandalay Bay Convention Center for improved technology and video walls. Similar investments are happening all over the city in updating spaces and infrastructure.

Glanzer was adamant that technology be focused on how it affects the attendee and makes their lives better—whether it is the ability to order a margarita or access the information they need quickly—not just technology for technology’s sake. She also attested to the fact that after a painful security breach a month before IMEX that led to shutting down MGM Resorts International’s email communication, those systems have been built back more secure than ever.

Read More: The Essential IMEX America 2023 Guide

“We need to keep adding and refreshing ourselves to keep things fresh and new and you will see that in Las Vegas,” she said. That includes new entertainment, such as a Swingers golf experience opening at Mandalay Bay next year and improved sustainability, including a solar array that powers all of MGM’s daytime needs and signing onto the CEO Water Mandate—a UN Global Compact initiative encouraging business leaders to advance water stewardship.

Day 2

IMEX Day 2 Exhibitor Video Updates

Day two of IMEX America started with the traditional IMEXrun at 7:00 a.m., a 5K dawn trek through town that complements the IMEX Wellbeing Challenge designed by Maritz and sponsored by Harrah’s Reimagined and powered by Heka Health. Participants counted steps and participated in bonus activities to win prizes. But attendees were just catching their breath for the next phase of the marathon that is the IMEX hosted buyer and trade show event.

runners in black crossing the finish line at IMEXrun

9:30 a.m.: Future Leaders. An invitation-only forum for senior hospitality students considering a career in the meetings industry was a platform for veterans to learn what the next generation is looking for and future students to get a better understanding of the diversity of opportunities available in events and tourism management. Gatherings such as this offer hope that the industry will continue to thrive with fresh ideas and energetic teams. 

11:00 a.m.: Future Placemakers. On a related note, NYU School of Professional Studies (NYU SPS) Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality and Destinations International (DI), announced a collaboration to offer a Professional in Destination Management certificate and give students a chance to participate in DI events. Students can pursue PDM certification as part of the NYU SPS Tisch Center’s Placemaking and Destination Branding Course in the Spring, 2024 semester. More hope that well-trained voices will be on the other end of the line when meeting professionals call to ask about bringing a citywide to town. The announcement was one of six tools rolled out by DI’s Chief Operating Officer Gretchen Hall as part of what she called, “futureproofing.”

Read More: Destinations International Young Leaders Program

11:30 a.m.:  Grand Opportunities. Attendees making their way through the cones in Ubers, taxis and shuttles had a front row seat on the construction going on to create grandstands and lighting for the Formula 1 night race that will run at speeds of up to 212 mph Nov. 16-18 on a 3.8-mile track through the heart of Las Vegas Boulevard. Most also heard comments from drivers struggling to deliver passengers around the obstacles of lane closures and delays. Lisa Messina, Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority Chief Sales Officer, shared the upside of the newest sporting event to come to town.

When the cars leave the city in a month, the $700 million in improvements made by F1, including paddocks that can double as unique meeting venues, will be available for groups—at least until they return the following year. Sleek racecars will be followed by the sound of hoofbeats when Rodeo World comes to town in December, high-tech wonders at CES and massive tractors at the 50th running of World of Concrete, both in January. Then Super Bowl LVIII arrives in February. This cornucopia of events will showcase the city to new audiences and, in the case of F1, at a time when the city is normally slower than usual.

Formula 1 car and helmet artisitc
Photo from .f1lasvegasgp.com

Listen More: Lisa Messina Shares the One Thing that Made All the Difference in Her Life

11:45 a.m.: A Controlled Rebound. A quick check-in with John Reyes, senior vice president of Hawai’i Visitors & Convention Bureau (HVCB) and chief MCI sales officer for Meet Hawai’i and Sherry Duong, executive director of Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau, confirmed that groups are returning to Maui after devastating fires in the historic whaling town of Lahaina two months ago. Some are even modifying their programs to include meaningful CSR in the agenda. The reopening is being managed in phases so residents can transition while damage is being repaired.

Camera, man and woman facing with microphone
Sherry Duong

Read More: The Ethical Calculation of Holding Events in the Wake of Disasters

Noon: Net Zero Progress. A press conference for Net Zero Carbon Events revealed that after the first phase of the program, recruiting signatories to sign a net zero by 2050 pledge, the group is now focusing on fine tuning methodologies.

Elizabeth Fretheim, vice president for sustainability with Freeman Company reported that for many companies, sustainability is now more than a checkbox. “It is part of the decision making because it matters to attendees, customers, employees, communities and the bottom line,” she said. One reason, Millennials and Gen Z attendees expect events to be both sustainable and regenerative. They want companies to fix problems when they meet. 

3:30 p.m.: Event Consolidation. At a press conference, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) announced that it is acquiring  the EVENT, a Canadian conference that MPI Chief Brand Officer Drew Holmgren said would make the association an even stronger global presence for face-to-face professional development. Working alongside the MPI Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal/Quebec Volunteer Chapter Leaders, and Ryan Young, Tim Whalen and Marie-France Watson, the original three co-founders of the EVENT, Holmgren said MPI currently plans to host the experience in the fall of 2024.

4:00 p.m.: Smart Women Unite. What happens when Smart Women in Meetings Award winners and allies gather to toast a growing, dynamic community of leaders? Hugs happen. At what has become an annual event, winners gathered in the Smart Meetings booth to catch up, celebrate each other and look to the future. Cheers.

Group of Smart Women in Meetings winners in Smart Meetings booth

Day 1 

IMEX Day 1 Exhibitor Video Updates

Welcome sign on Mandalay Bay Convention Center with new IMEX logoAt 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 17, the switch flipped on 150 education sessions and thousands of one-on-one meetings at IMEX America 2023 at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas as Nick Santonastasso, CEO of Victorious International, took the stage to help everyone rewrite their stories with themselves as the narrative hero. His message: “Focus on what you can control instead of what you are lacking.”

We walked the floor and kept this running journal of insights gleaned.

Nick Santonastasso
Nick Santonastasso

7 a.m.: Rise and shine. Thank you Visit California for the hearty breakfast and the coffee—especially the coffee after a nostalgia-drenched ’70s-themed SITE Night at Palms Casino Resort the evening before. We loved all the orange vests and smiling faces. Restaurant Row between Mandalay Bay Convention Center and Mandalay Bay Casino was buzzing with early morning networkers. 

Read More: New IMEX Experience Starts on Arrival

Rev. Maya Jaguar performing an opening ceremony
Rev. Maya Jaguar

9 a.m.: Opening ceremony. Rev. Maya Jaguar, a transformation coach and interfaith human, led a shared ritual at Google’s Xi CoLaboratory in the Innovation Hub that featured Cirque drummers to get everyone excited and energized. Jaguar called rituals a gateway to the creative side of the mind as they fire up all the senses.  On Thursday, Jaguar will return for a closing ritual to seal the community.

Read More: Get Ready for a Human-centric IMEX America

Tracy Judge in front of purple wall with monitor.
Tracy Judge

10:00 a.m.: Future staffing. Tracy Judge, CEO of Soundings, announced a study focused on the motivations and values of freelancers as part of a Future of Work initiative. It is a partnership with Temple University and San Diego State University.

Freelance gig workers can solve a lot of the problems of a diminished, untrained workforce with fluctuating staffing needs if companies can learn to adapt to support them appropriately. Look for the survey at the end of October to share your experiences. 

sign, wellbeing wheel with RV goggles

10:30 a.m.:  Well-being Wheel. IMEX partnered with Novobeing in the Inspiration Hub to harness the power of virtual reality to help attendees practice meditation and relaxation.

Noon: Time for lunch. Options on the floor were diverse with everything from made-to-order pizza and vegan rice and vegetable dishes to snacks and wings. Smart Tip: break for lunch early to avoid the rush.

2:00 p.m.: Take a breather with Well-X: After two more hours of meeting and networking with event profs, you could take a quick break. The France-based hospitality company Accor partnered with Well-X, a wellness company that brings their program to you, to give attendees a moment to relax.

Operated by Magdaleena Nikolov, former general manager of spa, wellness and retail at Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles, and Patricija Miklusiene, spa, beauty and wellness consultant and coach, the experience includes a leg and shoulder massage, and scented, purified oxygen that induces a sense of calm. According to Nikolov, 20 minutes of breathing in this purified oxygen amounts to a two- or three-hour nap.

3:00 p.m.: Break Free. Event technology company Encore’s Break Free: Continuing the Journey VIP experience was a graphic storytelling session driving home the importance of the power of using empathy to design more accommodating events. Attendees were asked to sign a wall pledging to design gatherings everyone could enjoy. 

3:30 p.m.: Project Spark.
PCMA announced new AI meeting planner tools launching Monday that range from free to almost $700 for a training. The resource and consulting ecosystem is half owned by PCMA with Gevme, a Singapore company, owning the other half. PCMA President and CEO Sherrif Karamat praised the ability of the tool armed with current aggregated data from thousands of users to help with marketing and data analytics while promising that information will be protected. He called it, “a once in a generation opportunity for meeting professionals to understand and define how a disruptive technology will shape the industry.”

Jeff Posner with Marriott Team at The Chelsea4:00 p.m.: Networking time. Mingling started early as treats of all kinds start coming out on the floor and attendees broke for their various events all over the city (shout out to our Regional Sales Manager Jeff Posner shown left, who kicked up his heels with Marriott International at The Chelsea at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas).

Lesson learned from Encore CEO Ben Erwin: Let’s agree to give each other grace as we are all booked back-to-back and will probably be a little late trekking from the Technology Innovation Hub through North America, Canada and Japan to get to the Inspiration Hub on the opposite side of the building. On a related note, thank you to my this morning self for deciding to wear the On running shoes with the dress pants since I clocked almost 15,000 steps.

Editor’s note: Bookmark this page and check back over the next three days as we update with more insights from the IMEX America floor at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.