12 Trends Seen and Heard at IMEX America 2023
Held Oct. 17-19 at Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, the 12th edition of IMEX America was the largest ever in terms of attendance and number of booths. The event featured 360 booths and nearly 15,000 confirmed participants, of which more than 5,000 were buyers.
Those buyers, of which one-fifth represented the corporate sector, took part in more than 80,000 pre-scheduled meetings in three days, of which 73,000 were one-to-ones with exhibitors.
The show boasted a 20% increase in space taken by exhibitors and a 9% increase in the number of booths, according to an IMEX press release.
Here are 12 trends we saw and heard at the event.
1. The latest tech innovations for events. The Encore booth featured a hologram experience for attendees to try (see a video here). Outside the show entrance, a hologram of IMEX Group President Carina Bauer welcomed attendees (see a video here).
2. Events are prioritizing wellness and mental health. IMEX offered a wellness experience, where attendees could join a visualization session. The goal: Create a moment of mental wellbeing, choose an intention for navigating workplace stress in a more positive way or sketch out a vision for personal success during the event. Suppliers are responding to this trend by rolling out new products and services. For example, Caesars Entertainment introduced a wellness menu for meetings that the company launched at IMEX.
3. Event budgets are going up but not enough to cover cost increases. “Everyone is feeling the price pressure, and we are seeing that in our research, as well,” said Tara Higgins, senior vice president, commercial for Encore, and president of Hargrove, a division of Encore. “Event organizers have to be more mindful of how they spend their budgets and design for impact.” In fact, 67% of event professionals report increasing budgets for corporate meetings and events, according to the 13th Annual Global Meetings and Events Forecast, produced by American Express GBT Meetings & Events. “Budgets are higher but not at pace with inflation,” said Linda McNairy, global vice president, strategic meetings at American Express Meetings & Events.
4. Instagram-worthy backdrops. One cool activation was located in the lobby: A black video box (see a video here). Attendees could immerse themselves in a box to take videos or photos to post on social media. IMEX-branded step-and-repeats and 3D logo signage were also scattered throughout the show floor.
5. AI is everywhere. In 2023, the hottest conference topic — no matter the industry — is AI. During one session we attended, event professionals talked about AI tools they are using to repurpose content. These include: GlossAi, Opus, Claap, MilkVideo, Canva, Hoppy Copy and Spark, an AI tool for event professionals created by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). During a press conference at IMEX, PCMA CEO and President Sherrif Karamat revealed that more than 3,500 event professionals from more than 40 countries have signed up to use Spark. According to a survey by Convene in September, “64% of event professionals are using AI, and 59% are looking for AI upskilling,” he said.
6. Celebrating industry leaders. The Events Industry Council recognized the industry’s best and brightest with a global awards celebration at the Bellagio Resort and Casino (see a video here). The 2023 Hall of Leaders inductees include: Carina Bauer, Barbara Connell, Wanda Johnson, Steve O’Malley, Amelia binti Roziman, Christine “Shimo” Shimasaki and Dr. Deborah Breiter-Terry. Other award winners include: Dale Hudson as Pacesetter Award winner; Geneviève Leclerc and Zoe Moore as Social Impact Award winners; and Megan Henshall as Adaptation and Innovation Award winner.
7. International visitors are back but not to pre-pandemic levels. While the number of international visitors is up significantly in 2023 compared with 2022, the overall recovery of overseas travel is still lacking, with only a 78% rebound compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to latest data by the U.S. Travel Association. This year, long visa wait times in China, India, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and other top markets will cost the U.S. $12 billion in traveler spending, said U.S. Travel Association CEO and President Geoff Freeman. Visa wait times for the U.S.’s top inbound markets are more than 400 days on average.
8. Go big or go home. Event Leaders Exchange (ELX) hosted a tour and reception at Allegiant Stadium. Attendees enjoyed a five-course meal in the Las Vegas Raiders locker room, followed by dessert and a violin performance by Mari Lee, CEO and Artistic Director, Salon Séance (see a video here).
9. Costs are up significantly. No surprise: Inflation is driving up costs. Labor costs are up 20% from 2020, and raw materials, petroleum, plastics and diesel fuel are up 30%, said Jeff Quade, executive vice president, exhibitions for GES. “We are focused on lean efficiency methods and consolidated purchasing when possible to get better pricing,” he said. “It’s a friction point.”
10. Love makes the world go round. Opened on Sept. 29 with a concert by U2, the Sphere is the hottest new entertainment venue in Las Vegas. Louisville Tourism hosted a reception and dinner at the venue, which seats more than 17,000 (see a video of the private event space in Theory Lounge at the Sphere here). After dinner, attendees watched Postcard From Earth on the screen. Read more about the venue specs and opening in our story here.
11. Sustainability is top-of-mind for corporations. “We have committed to reducing our emissions by 50% by 2030 and net zero by 2050,” said Freeman Vice President Sustainability Elizabeth Fretheim during a press conference about Net Zero Carbon Events. “Even since January, our conversations with customers have changed. Sustainability used to just be a check box. Now it’s part of the decision-making process of who they are looking to work with.” In fact, almost 80% of S&P 500 companies disclosed that all of their ESG goals were on-track, according to a Harvard analysis of 250 sustainability reports by these companies published in 2023. “By any metric that we tracked, companies remained resolute on their ESG priorities despite the political rhetoric,” according to the Harvard analysis. “Sustainability is a topic that will accelerate for everybody,” said Martiz Chief Global Strategy Officer Ben Goedegebuure. “We are starting to have conversations around carbon budgets. We have seen two instances with corporations that have limited the number of events they are organizing because their carbon budgets have been reached.”
12. Inclusivity is top-of-mind. New in 2023 on the show floor, the Google Xi Co-Laboratory offered a program of sessions and spaces focused on experience design and the principles of belonging, with a focus on collaborative exploration, learning and growth (see a video here).