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IMEX Group gazes into the crystal ball for 2013

With 2013 just around the corner, the IMEX Group (organizers of two award-winning annual exhibitions – IMEX in Frankfurt and IMEX America in Las Vegas) offer their top 10 predictions on trends for the

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With 2013 just around the corner, the IMEX Group (organizers of two award-winning annual exhibitions – IMEX in Frankfurt and IMEX America in Las Vegas) offer their top 10 predictions on trends for the year ahead.

1. Face-to-Face is “phat” – Despite years of scaremongering to the contrary, live meetings, live events, and face-to-face meetings are on the rise again. Why? Thanks to neuro-science, plus an increasing desire – if not pressure – to fully understand the behavioral aspects of different meeting formats, we’re finally seeing scientific proof that face-to-face interaction produces unique outcomes and benefits. Witness the Meetology® Lab at IMEX in Frankfurt this year when two psychologists conducted a scientifically-valid experiment where participants helped to explore the differences between virtual and face-to-face communication. Initial findings show that face-to-face interaction measurably improved creativity. Watch for full findings and follow-up research results in 2013. Type “neuroscience” into and you’ll find 1,436 results to keep your brain busy.

2. Attendance is Ascending – There’s no expected let-up in exhibition attendance for 2013 either. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research’s (CEIR) November 2012 “Trends in use of exhibitions” report suggests that over the next 2 years, 6 out of 10 attendees will go to the same number of exhibitions as they are attending today, while 23 percent plan to attend more. (See links below)

3. Fun & Games Mean Business – In 2011 and 2012, gamification started to really heat-up as a new idea to engage, educate, and excite. With the continued explosion of smart phones and tablets, gamification looks set to explode in 2013. Facebook social gaming, in-browser gaming, FourSquare, and SCVNGR (social location-based gaming platforms for mobile phones) have put consumer and technology brands in particular in a hot spin. The end game – pun intended – is to spur loyalty, info-sharing, competition, and excitement but it remains critical to understand audience knowledge, goals, and desired results in advance to be successful. Games Consultant Nicholas Lovell (source: MPI’s research – see links) urges meetings and events professionals to ask “Why Gamify?” before diving in. He also sees great potential for meetings in looking beyond basic badge and point collection games to the techniques and structures of games themselves to learn how the games industry itself can make things fun and rewarding.

4. Destination Brands Get Personal – Personification anyone? The multisensory, creative opportunities provided by social media platforms and new gadgets are causing a leap in brand personification. The UK is awash with talking meerkats selling consumer insurance products, while in the meetings industry “Mr. Holland” is hard to ignore and highly visible online, in print, and in real life. Costa Rica looks to be taking up the trend with its curious yet “cuddly” talking three-toed sloth. In 2013, expect to see more destinations building stronger and more memorable brand personalities if not unique characters – be they man or beast! The idea is certainly not new, but social media and cheap online digital channels have allowed brands to literally burst into life and speak for themselves.

5. Event Apps Go “Money” – With mobile device use expanding by the nano-second, it’s no surprise that event and meeting apps are becoming a business essential. Use of the IMEX App has been brisk with 2,099 downloads on iphones and ipads at IMEX America this year compared to 1,209 last year. More generally, in 2013, many apps will lose their free price tag and become “monetized” or at least charge for “premium,” full-featured editions reflecting their true value-add and growing stature in the industry. Further demand for services “in the cloud” will fuel yet more development. Among Business Insider’s Top 18 Productivity Apps list (September 2012), the meetings and events industry pros might note “Box” (for storing documents online to share between devices) and “Bump” for sharing contacts mobile to mobile. Also see Shane Robinson’s excellent list of Free Mobile Apps Every Entrepreneur Should Use in November’s Forbes magazine (see links).

6. Calls to Political Action Grow Louder – With the US elections completed and 20,000 miles clocked on the US Travel Association’s Vote Travel Bus, 2013 will see even more momentum and urgency behind political advocacy efforts. The no. 1 message is that the meetings, events, and incentive travel industry is an important engine for economic recovery and growth the world over. That message is in lock-step with IMEX’s Power of 10 study where 78% of respondents said their biggest challenge over the next decade is to prove to local government that their industry drives the knowledge economy, creates tangible wealth, and is not a branch of tourism. Expect more resources to become available and more encouragement for destinations to take up the charge at a local level. IMEX will be doing its bit once again with its annual Politicians Forum at IMEX in Frankfurt in May, a second US Travel Advocacy Forum in Las Vegas in October – plus a new agreement to work with PCMA’s new Industry Business Forum for local leaders.

7. Green Meetings Will Keep Sprouting – The green meetings “movement” is now developing a unity and identity all of its own, especially among a new generation of younger planners for whom caring for the environment is second nature. The meetings and events industry has successfully moved past criticisms of “green-washing” to a point where there is a critical mass of expertise (and individual experts). The advent of the long-awaited APEX Standards gives the industry a stamp of authority plus a clear target to aim for. As an example, in 2011, IMEX America succeeded in diverting 65% of recyclable waste from its debut show. Working in close partnership with the Sands Expo team and its contractors, over 70% of waste was recycled this year. (Detailed results to be announced in the New Year)

8. Pictures Will Say More than 1,000 Words – The use of Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, and, increasingly in the b2b sector – Pinterest – plus techniques such as word clouds are driving new approaches to messaging and communication. Expect increased use of animation and visual story-telling techniques including video, interactive charts, graphics, and “3D-like” pictures, all of which take the pressure of words in an email-heavy world and break through remaining language barriers.

9. CSR Gets More Hands Dirty – In 2013, expect planners and participants to go beyond today’s local community support efforts to include more direct, hands-on involvement prior, during, and after big events. At IMEX America in October, small groups of motivated delegates took part in two off-site, roll-up-your-sleeves, community-service events – one at Clean the World’s Las Vegas recycling center and one at Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest. With social media spurring on collective action and allowing groups to tell a vivid, personal story about their CSR successes, expect to see more hands-on efforts with less emphasis on dollar/euro value and more on time invested, differences-made and passions ignited.

10. Authenticity, Credibility, Accountability – Call it what you will, “trust” will be a big watchword for 2013. Those companies – in all industries – that can successfully demonstrate openness and transparency will win greater loyalty from their customers. Too much “say one thing and do another” across all reaches of society (think banks, government officials, and even the BBC) has made many parts of society, including those in business, feel weary. Individuals, associations, companies, and agencies within the meetings and events industry who act openly, with authenticity and consistency, are likely to find their brand value and credibility sky-rocketing, thereby helping to push back against the lock-down of compliance or even legislation.

The IMEX Group runs two award-winning exhibitions for the international meetings, events and incentive travel industry. In 2013, IMEX in Frankfurt will take place on May 21–23 in Frankfurt, Germany, while IMEX America will be on October 15–17 in Las Vegas.

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