Three takeaways from a refreshed IMEX Frankfurt 2023


While a trade show floor might not create instant mental parallels to the kinds of incentive travel experiences SITE members create, IMEX nevertheless proved why it continues to earn widespread industry attention with the 2023 edition of its signature Frankfurt show.

From the showcase of its newly refreshed brand to a notable uptick in attendance and interest from regions that emerged more recently from the COVID crisis, here were just a few of our team’s key takeaways from #IMEX23 — and the connections we see between this year’s show experience and the incentive travel space.

#1: Meeting an increased demand for transparency, done creatively

It was the buzz of the show floor, in part because it was literally all around us: IMEX returned with a refreshed brand that features darker shades mingling amongst pastels, and a revamped logo that sees the “M” in IMEX doing double-duty with a fun iconographic twist.

More interesting to branding nerds though (very much including myself in this camp!) was the transparency IMEX literally displayed about their brand refresh.

Included as part of this year’s Hall 9 activations was a display explaining the rebrand, with insights on the questions the team asked to decide whether a rebrand was the right course of action; credit to those who were part of the rebrand process; and examples of how exactly the refreshed look and feel will continue to be brought to life.

What this means for incentive travel: transparency, transparency, transparency — it’s a new “must have” when explaining the choices you’ve made to stakeholders, whether they’re deeply invested or have a mere passing interest.

Understanding the “why” behind the refresh likely wasn’t the biggest “aha” moment most IMEX attendees walked away with last week — but it’s fascinating for those of us on the marketing side of things, nevertheless (Hopefully my fellow industry communications professionals took note!).

A demand for transparency is also in line with findings of SITE’s latest research project, Participant inSITEs, where qualifiers stressed the need for transparent communications that make it clear how close they are to qualifying and strategies they can use to reach their goals.

While companies don’t need to create full-scale exhibits just to share regular progress or status updates, of course, being transparent about the processes behind decisions is increasingly being rewarded by audiences across the board — and inherently expected from those you’re communicating directly and regularly with.  

#2: Streamline and simplify to avoid team burnout

This one we admittedly got a bit of an “insider” take on, with SITE CEO Annette Gregg joining IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer in conversation for a Wednesday education session during this year’s show.

Carina was upfront about this year’s show being one of the hardest projects the wider IMEX team has tackled in recent memory, given both the rebrand detailed above and new tech changes the team took on in advance of Frankfurt as well.

It forced the IMEX team, said Carina, to focus on the “essentials,” or what’s going to be most valuable and impactful to the overall show experience. Keeping a tighter, better focus on what transformations needed to take place now and what can wait for later helped them pull together the best possible show floor.

What this means for incentive travel: We’ve heard again and again from any industry research conducted over the last several years that incentive travel qualifiers are looking for more free time — and that organizers need to avoid the temptation to over-program.

Adopting IMEX’s “essentialism” framing in thinking about future incentive reward design could lead to interesting results for planners and participants alike.

#3: Excitement and interest from Africa and APAC

It was exciting to once again see large show floor presences and meet with individuals representing regions of the world that were just emerging from a rough few years when last year’s show took place, that have returned in full force now in 2023.

The Asia-Pacific portion of the IMEX show floor was bustling, with destinations like Macao, Singapore, Taiwan, India, and Indonesia strongly signaling they’re open and eager to welcome MICE visitors once more.

(As a sidenote though: I noticed — and liked! — the bird sounds and the pleasant smell when entering the show floor multiple times each day, but it took CMW’s show recap for me to realize it was part of Sarawak’s show sponsorship! Maybe a slight miss on an otherwise excellent activation?)

What this means for incentive travel: Interest and engagement from APAC and African attendees was reflected in SITE’s own stand traffic, and by new members who earned their CIS prior to the start of IMEX Frankfurt.

CIS cohort members included incentive travel professionals from Zanzibar, Morocco, Tanzania, Uganda, and India. Many of their destination colleagues also visited SITE throughout the show to talk about the growth of incentive travel in their countries and wider regions.

All excellent signs, as SITE looks forward to its Executive Summit in Zimbabwe taking place next month!

Written by

Sydney Nolan

Sydney Nolan


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