IMEX 22 – a window onto the post-covid events industry

IMEX 22 wrapped up last week. There was a real buzz about the place, with a sense that business in the industry is booming as well as some fault lines that were clearly evident within the sector. We were at the Agency Directors Forum, the main event, and several of the social events – here are our musings on the state of, and direction of travel within the events industry.

The events industry is back

IMEX 22 kicked off a day early for us at the Agency Directors Forum, where agency directors and owners unanimously reported booming business. The forum offered a fascinating insight into what markets across the globe were experiencing. Pretty much each region was represented and whilst there were variations in exit stage from the pandemic, all regions reported solid to unprecedented inbound and outbound event demand. Think back a few months and this bounce back was still speculation, now it seems to be fully materialising. In the main IMEX 22 hall, the feedback from hotel chains, venues and destinations was pretty much the same - unprecedented demand for their services. Talk was also of the absence of some familiar faces in the industry, unable to leave overworked teams during the rebound. Looking forward there was a belief that the industry faced no further (significant) pandemic disruption. Future outbreaks feel inevitable but there was a sense that the worst is definitely behind us and that as an industry, we are in a good position to adapt to any further outbreaks. On a societal level, there would be resistance to any future draconian regulations – that people wanted to move on from covid, irrespective of any residual risks.

The events industry is struggling

On the demand side of the equation, the events industry was in a good place, clients wanting to make up for lost time and an industry basking in personal reconnections. It wasn’t all roses though, with the related issues of staff shortages and inflation being 2 challenges that were addressed during the Agency Directors Forum. Pandemic-era staff retention varied greatly across the represented businesses, based on government support, balance sheets and imponderables such as team demographics. It was common across all the enterprises present that HR was currently an unprecedented challenge – a reduced (and potentially less experienced) workforce tasked with meeting a unique surge in demand. Competing for staff in the market is likely to drive up wages at a time when general inflation is rampant. All present shared experiences of cost escalation that on average was high, yet in certain sectors such as aviation, inflation rates could be 30-40% on certain routes. These are huge problems for the industry to solve, especially against a backdrop of price stability, even deflationary pressures, that have endured for decades. Responses to the inflation crisis won't be based on skills learnt through experience, more so, through adaptation in uncharted territories. It is also important to note that whilst the agencies are passing on increased costs to clients, it is highly likely that these clients are also selling their goods and services at higher prices as well – event prices are climbing but so is the pot from which they are paid.

Integrity of sustainability accreditation

Sustainability was everywhere, even in some questionable areas. History is littered with honourable movements that have had to defend their standards against entrants looking to piggyback on the cause. Sustainability is no different and this was evident in both the Agency Directors Forum and in the public hall at IMEX. An agency from the Balkans described the difficulties they had in contracting with suppliers, to fulfil EU event contracts. For all its progress over recent years, the Balkans doesn’t operate to the equivalent sustainability standards of other EU nations. Their accreditation scheme is more porous and this represents a huge challenge for agencies to deliver on sustainability commitments that are enshrined in contracts with the customer.

These issues aren’t restricted to the Balkans, nor individual suppliers. A walk through the public hall at IMEX 22 saw endless, visible references to sustainability, in some cases adorning a surprising range of exhibitor stands. The point is that if sustainability becomes a state of mind rather than action, then we all fail. Sustainability is the only future for our world and our industry, and the exacting standards of Nordic countries in particular should be celebrated, not by-passed. Germany and Alpine countries have credible roadmaps for sustainability, as does the Netherlands – many don’t though. It is hard to see how some established destinations, and very many currently under construction, can ever be considered sustainable. Every little helps - that is beyond dispute, but as event organisers our reputations are dependent on delivering on client objectives and values. We are in a perilous situation when we rely on accreditation schemes that fall short of client expectations or lack basic integrity and uniformity. Suppliers need to challenge themselves and their local networks to meet the high standards of credible accreditation. Sustainability means more than rebranding to include a slogan on a booth.

2 men laughing in a bar.
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