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‘The baseline is: can we guarantee that value?’ Carina Bauer on IMEX

We caught up with IMEX Group CEO, Carina Bauer to discuss the decision to cancel IMEX Frankfurt 2021 and find out what’s next for IMEX.

Calling off an event five months before it’s due to take place may seem premature, but Bauer reminds us that the announcement was not early given the size and international nature of the trade show.

“We could see that things were uncertain but we wanted to see our situation,” she says. “We had committed to our clients and to our partners that we would come back in the new year and see how the land lies.

“With the climate as it is, the reality of running a trade show of our scale, size, international nature and its lead time, we felt strongly that we needed to inform the industry as early as possible to give everybody clarity. We decided to tell people to let everybody plan for the year ahead.”

Bauer and the team were also concerned about the potential costs incurred by exhibitors and buyers who planned on attending the show, costs that might not be recuperated if the IMEX Group hadn’t announced the decision early.

“We were really conscious of that and as an organiser, you have to be because, at the end of the day, what we do is create value for the industry and value for our clients. The baseline is ‘Can we guarantee that value?'”, Bauer added.

“There’s no point on spending that money and time and effort if we can’t guarantee that value. We’ve always guaranteed the value and we’ve always delivered on that so we feel really strongly that we have to be able to deliver on that.

“That was strongly in our thinking for why we cancelled the show early because we’re not going to wait and wing it.”

Then, of course, there are the restrictions around international travel. “There’s no one country that truly dominates [IMEX Frankfurt], so international travel is just critical in terms of underpinning the attendance from both buyers and exhibitors.

“We were really hopeful last autumn that by the spring of 2021, the travel would be in a much better place in terms of the processes of how we travel, travel corridors and testing.

“And I think we’ll get there but I just think it looks to be a little bit longer than we’d hoped.”

Confidence among exhibitors and attendees seems to be growing, as Bauer explained. “I think there is more confidence in the market than we realise. There’s certainly a desire for the marketplace to get together and get back to business or suppliers to showcase what they do, but of course, it’s cautious.

“We can be confident about our industry and we should be.”

What can we expect from IMEX America in November?

“We’re very hopeful about IMEX America and we’re delighted it’s in November which gives us a nice long lead time. We don’t expect it to be as large as 2019 in terms of space but we will do our best to get everybody there.

“Although we hope the world will be in a better situation, we’ll be looking at the show to ensure we spread things out in space and that is something that’s going to be important for us and for all events for a while.”

Despite the pandemic acting as a catalyst to the rapid changes we’ve seen in the meetings and events industry, Bauer isn’t convinced the fundamental tradeshow model will or should change.

“Tradeshows have been running for thousands of years and all a tradeshow is is a marketplace to bring buyers and sellers together. Of course, there are several ways to do that online, there are ways to do that hybrid and there are ways to do that in person and all of these ways are vaild.

“But the real crux of a big trade show is: can you bring people together in an environment that’s efficient and effective and enables them to do business, as well as lots of other things like education? But at the heart of every successful trade show is a really successful marketplace, and I don’t see that changing.”

However, Bauer suggests that trade shows built on “people turning up, hoping to maybe see somebody” – unlike IMEX’s appointment-driven system – “will need to have a think about the effectiveness and efficiency of that marketplace.”

“What COVID has done, I don’t think it’s necessarily changed everything we do, it’s accelerated trends that were already there and we were already talking about, such as event planners needing to be much more strategic in terms of really getting to the heart of why they’re being asked to put on events, what’s the purpose of it? How can they meet that objective? – that is going to be critical going forward.”

And the return of Planet IMEX?

“Planet IMEX was born out of a crisis, it was great and we’re really proud of it, but what we’re doing now is spending a little bit of time in the next few weeks doing some research and focus groups with our buyers and suppliers to work out what they need this year.

“We feel that digital events and digital activations and experiences are going to be an important part of this year, but whether we deliver them in exactly the same way, that might need to change.

“We don’t want to just regurgitate what we did last year without taking that step back and re-evaluating what people actually want and need.”

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