Event Horizon is a column by EW's Stuart Wood, taking a look at the events industry from a newcomer’s perspective. In this latest instalment he travels to Frankfurt for his first ever IMEX, where he gets lost inside a Kafka novel and finds the Danes playing beer pong...
I expected it would be big. But I didn’t expect it to be quite this enormous.
For many of you who’ve been in events for a number of years, I’m sure IMEX is a bit of a known quantity. The international meetings industry travel show is one of the biggest in the world, and has been a focal point for the MICE industry since its inception in 2003.
For a relative newcomer, however, it’s quite an experience. I joined Mash Media and the events world just under a year ago, and IMEX is certainly the biggest event I have attended to date.
“Navigating the corporate labyrinth of Messe Frankfurt without signage felt a bit like being lost inside a Franz Kafka novel.”
I arrived early in order to get registered and visit the Association Day, but not figuring out my route ahead of time proved to be a big mistake. Navigating the corporate labyrinth of Messe Frankfurt - with a majority of the signage not yet in place for the official opening - felt a bit like being lost inside a Franz Kafka novel.
Anonymous bureaucrats in glass booths provided confusing directions around a venue which took fifteen minutes to walk from one side to the other. Eventually, however, I tracked down the press office in Hall 8, where I was able to get my badge printed before sitting in on the final keynote of the Monday.
The world, in a room
The opening of the show proper, on Tuesday morning, was something else entirely. As I’d wandered through the venue the day before, I’d snatched glimpses of the stands in construction. But, overnight, those piles of fresh carpet and shell scheme had been transformed into a vibrant smorgasbord of business tourism.
Each country and national convention bureau does their best to stand out among the visual onslaught of the IMEX showfloor. Belgium had a sushi bar. The Netherlands had bright orange clogs dangling from the ceiling. Australia had a stand with two floors, and a spiral staircase in the centre.
And then there’s the noise. IMEX was described to me, at one point over the week, as “the world in a room.” It certainly sounds like it. Moving between the stands you hear more languages than you can make sense of, as international delegates are having meetings and making new connections everywhere you look. It’s both exciting and a little bit overwhelming.
“Belgium had a sushi bar. The Netherlands had bright orange clogs dangling from the ceiling. Australia had a stand with two floors, and a spiral staircase in the centre.”
The talks and conference content, thankfully, were for the most part conducted in English. Over the course of three days, I heard speakers from MPI, Positive Impact, Too Good to Go and a number of other organisations which are all doing exciting things in the industry.
One of my personal highlights was sitting in on the finals of MPI’s University Challenge scheme, where six students pitched their dream events for a chance to win a scholarship. The pitches were a demonstration of the creative (and sustainable) thinking being fostered in event degrees around the world, and you can read my full write-up of the finals here.
Ice cream bingo and free Guinness
Back on the showfloor, the penultimate day of IMEX proved to be the silliest. Wednesday evening is the night of the gala dinner and awards, but before that gets underway, each country and stand tries its best to attract stragglers with some drinks and entertain to round off the day.
Walking through the aisles at around 5pm, I found the Danes playing beer pong, the Scots hosting a bagpipe session which transitioned into a raffle, and the Russians playing bingo…with ice cream. Perhaps the busiest of all, though, was the Fáilte Ireland stand, where free Guinness, loud music and live dancers drew big crowds. Let it never be said that the Irish don’t know how to party.
“Perhaps the busiest of all was the Fáilte Ireland stand, where free Guinness, loud music and live dancers drew big crowds.”
In between all of this madness, the big business that fuels the events and MICE industries takes place at IMEX Frankfurt. It’s a reminder of how big the sector really is, and how far its influence extends: IMEX chairman Ray Bloom informed us during the closing press conference that this year’s show attracted 4,500 exhibitors, making 70,000 appointments.
Being in the centre of that cultural melting pot for four days is as exhausting as it is exhilarating, but it’s an experience that will certainly stick with me.
See you back there next year, eventprofs!