Ad astram: IMEX launches new virtual experience

Ad astram: IMEX launches new virtual experience

IMEX CEO Carina Bauer talks to CMW about the Frankfurt show cancellation and beyond to the launch on 6 May of PlanetIMEX.

Was postponement of IMEX Frankfurt to another date possible? I assume the Messe and the GCB were supportive to the last?

Firstly, Messe Frankfurt have been amazing partners to IMEX. First, in their rapid response as we began to look into the options available to us, as well as in the aftermath of cancellation. The availability of their top team, together with their willingness to help us on costs, has been above and beyond and we thank them for this.

A part of this support was looking at alternative dates. The issue was that, in making a decision to postpone, the question is when do you postpone to a time that gives any certainty? We did not feel that postponing to June or July, from May, was sensible given the situation and we did not want to put the industry in a position of continually having to ‘wait and see’. Further out than July was not sensible due to the proximity to IMEX America and other industry events.

In terms of insurance, we are currently working through our brokers and are hoping that some insurance will be available to us.

Your cancellation message to the industry and stakeholders came across as very heartfelt. Does that provide any comfort?

Absolutely – we’ve been overwhelmed by the messages of support that we’ve received from across the industry and around the world. It meant so much to the whole IMEX team and we have all shared these and taken great comfort in them.

What about investment in the 2020 Frankfurt show to date and venue and exhibitor costs? Are you being refunded and will exhibitors get refunds?

Firstly, we committed to refunding our exhibitors 100% of their stand costs, as well as sponsorships and advertising. We are also working to refund our hosted buyers and speakers who may have purchased non-refundable flights to Frankfurt. All of this is underway and our Finance team has been incredibly busy making these payments over the past few weeks.

In terms of venue and other costs, as I explained above, our venue has been outstanding in their help with costs. In addition, we’ve been overwhelmed by the support from the Frankfurt community – hotels, venues, suppliers – which have all helped in different ways and to the degrees that make sense.

When we cancelled we sought to speak to every one of our suppliers as soon as we could – aiming to work with them to mitigate our costs and their costs, at the same time as taking a fair and reasonable approach. This means that each situation is individual and there is no ‘one size fits all’ but, working together, we can hopefully support each other through this crisis. That is our aim.

How are things looking for IMEX America in Las Vegas in September?

As well as our new virtual experience, our team is also busy working towards IMEX America in September. We are living with the reality that things can change quickly, but at present we know that the industry is very much looking forward to coming together in Las Vegas to celebrate our renewal and we can’t wait to welcome people there.

Is it too early to plan for the industry’s recovery and what might that process look like?

I strongly believe that there will be a pent-up demand for both face-to-face meetings and events, as well as travel.

However, that pent-up demand will only be realised fully when we are truly out of this crisis and people have confidence to plan events months in advance and confidence in the health and safety aspects. We’ll need to think carefully about how we can deliver that confidence as an industry, and we’ll also need clear direction from governments around things like open borders and projections for the future of this epidemic. I do believe that our business will come back strongly, but while there is uncertainty we must find ways to possibly have local events with hybrid components and plan for some interim solutions.

How have things moved since your cancellation announcement. Where are your and Ray’s priorities now?

Our priorities are the same as they have always been – to serve our industry and the business events community and to look after our team and their wellbeing. The whole world is in flux right now and the key thing is to keep evaluating the best way that we can achieve those priorities and adjusting as needed.

Exciting news about the launch of PlanetIMEX, set for entering orbit on 6 May? It would have been a shame for the industry to miss out on all the content created for Frankfurt. Tell us about the bold move into virtual space. Quite an investment?

That’s correct – as soon as we were able after the cancellation we gathered a core
team to start working on aspects of a virtual event. We have a huge amount of content to share and, in addition, we’ve looked carefully at how we can provide networking, business and educational content in our new realities. We’re really excited to be launching a brand new experience. As a top priority, we decided that we wanted this to be a gift to the industry from IMEX.

We started to look at all the elements of the show and whether and how they could work in an online world. We also looked at whether we thought we could deliver them in a unique way to IMEX and how we could still build in our Nature Talking Point. All that led to the creation of the PlanetIMEX experience. (See for full details – Ed).

We are seeing the launch in May as Phase 1 of this project – we aim to learn from this initial launch and tweak and improve the concept over time. There will be additional content and launches as we move through that process.

In terms of investment – firstly, we are enormously grateful to our partners Cvent who immediately offered to help us bring this to life and have been extremely generous in their support and sponsorship of the educational element of PlanetIMEX. We also have a number of other tech partners that we are working with on other parts of the project.

However, even with such support it is a significant investment, not least in terms of time, with over half our team working on the initiative, and we expect to continue to invest in this project over time.

Finally, your message to our great industry in these troubled times?

Firstly, that #wewillmeetagain – business events will come back and come back strongly. But, the recovery may not be a straight-line upwards and it will inevitably take some time.

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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