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IMEX Chair Discusses Significance Of The Meetings Industry

Interview with Ray Bloom on Economic Impact Study and IMEX

Hazel Heyer, eTN  Apr 29, 2011

(eTN) - In a recent interview with Ray Bloom, chairman and founder of the IMEX Group, which organizes worldwide exhibitions for incentive travel, meetings, and events in Europe and the USA, eTN learned important details on the Economic Impact Study, which highlights the economic significance of the meetings industry at large. According to the study, there are 1.8 million corporate and business meetings, trade shows, conventions, congresses, incentive events, and other meetings that take place in the US, resulting in: US$263 billion in spending, 1.7 million in US jobs, US$106 billion in contribution to the GDP, US$14.3 billion in federal tax revenue, and US$60 billion in US labor income.

The total economic output of the meetings industry, including direct spending and multiplier effects (indirect/induced spending), reflects: US$907 billion in total US economic activity, 6.3 million US jobs, US$458 billion in contribution to GDP federal tax revenue, US$46 billion state and local tax, and US$271 billion in labor income.
Bloom explains the validity of the report that has been done in the US and the numbers that support the meetings industry. He said it (study) demonstrated how significant the sector is to the economy, which his group wants to convey worldwide.

eTN: How significant is the report considering the numbers are extremely high?

BLOOM: When you add up the numbers all together and see that they are larger than the automotive industry, which everyone identifies as very important to the US economy, instinctively people do that. But do they do that with the meetings and incentives industry, of course not. Therefore, you don't get the political support and national support for this industry just yet. This is why the Economic Impact Study should be regarded as an important paper, which will be launched soon in European countries. It is important, therefore, that we spend our time as well through our own work, to try to allow this sector to prevail in the political level. [This study was written by the Convention Industry Council.]

eTN: How credible are the numbers? Aren't the numbers too high?

BLOOM: Of course, I believe in those numbers as they were carried out by all the leaders in the industry and trade association who I'd been working with for years. These numbers are credible.

eTN: Since these numbers are astronomically large, do you say this is THE solution to a crippled economy we've been faced with through the last years? Meetings' numbers have surpassed the impact of the car industry, if that would have stayed healthy, and as this implies, would save our economy... correct?

BLOOM: What this is portraying, is what we already instinctively know, that what we do is very valuable in many ways. We were talking about "economic" impact, and we know what gets generated. But we haven't seen figures put in this way. So now, it just gives the industry tools in which to portray the value. That's basically what it has done. We did know the industry was very valuable but could not inform people, because we did not have the statistics to back it up with, which we already instinctively knew.

eTN: If the numbers are reportedly extremely high, please explain why so little focus has been given to an industry that, by the numbers alone, can presumably save the US economy from the worst decline or slow, if otherwise no visible recovery?

BLOOM: If you ask why the study was undertaken, because when the crisis came in '08, our industry was hard-hit. Since the industry wasn't prepared, then we realized we should do something about it. The industry has taken steps collectively to do something about it.

eTN: What are the top US destinations for MICE and why?

BLOOM: We're representing an entire market, and I am not in a position to talk about destinations and single them out. I treat all of them the same; all are important. I don't differentiate.

eTN: Against a less perfect real estate backdrop, the sky-rocketing fuel prices, and unemployment numbers still climbing, how can the MICE business help matters improve, since the Economic Impact Study implies the "solution" is the industry per se?

BLOOM: All I can tell you is, we launched IMEX America just right after the world recession. Our industry suffered immediately after it hit. We believe in our sector; we believe in our market. We believe it will come back and it will be much stronger than it was during the worst of the recessionary times.

eTN: With travel agencies, tour operators, and the small carriers struggling, how can your industry survive?

BLOOM: Well, I don't believe that for one moment our industry is under threat of NOT surviving. While gas prices are rising, airlines are unfortunately getting hit because fuel's the highest proportion of their cost. Airlines, though suffering this in a cyclical nature, are becoming more and more refined, and more viable due to mergers. With the hotel industry, I see the continual expansion of properties, group of hotels, and brands.

eTN: How can IMEX keep the market going with respect to the small business operators in your industry?

BLOOM: We are in the best of creating business opportunities. The reason we've been successful in IMEX in Frankfurt is because we put buyers and sellers together and create opportunities.

eTN: How can you host thousands of buyers in a market such as this? What risk you take!

BLOOM: Well, that is our business model. Fortunately, the support we have for our show enables us to do it. The first risk I took was in 1988, when I hosted 600 buyers to Geneva for our first EIBTM. We built it up ever since then and built it up with last year's 3,800 hosted buyers. We paid for the airfares and hotel stays.

eTN: Do you expect and require results then from the hosted buyers to mitigate the risk?

BLOOM: Our job is to create business opportunities for our exhibitors by bringing in high quality hosted buyers, which we've been doing for a long time.

eTN: How can your show set itself apart from the other shows?

BLOOM: There isn't in the US the scale of what we're trying to do - with 2 key elements present, including our hosted buyer program with 80% American and 20% international, and the other is that we work with all the major trade associations in our industry.

eTN: How can your industry help resuscitate the economy?

BLOOM: Our industry represents a potential to help the economy at large, worldwide, and particularly in the US. Incentive travel, the ability to motivate, is a very good economic driver as it has always been. The meetings industry represents the ability of groups of like-minded people to meet. The Economic Impact Study demonstrates that clearly and what I am suggesting, on the motivational side and the ability for people to meet, is a huge driver of economic value.

eTN: How big is the challenge you face trying to get over the "AIG" effect on the meetings and incentive travel business a couple of years back? [The "AIG" effect comes from the embarrassing disclosure that struggling insurance giant American International Group had spent about US$400,000 on a retreat at a luxurious St. Regis resort and spa after taking an US$85 billion federal bailout. After that, hoteliers saw mass cancellations or postponements of previously booked upscale trips and meetings.] Is your show going against the grind of the "AIG effect?"

BLOOM: The AIG effect was a misperception in my view. Our industry wasn't really prepared to deal with matters like this, but out of that came together the industry and the Economic Impact Study and the real value of what we do. After the "AIG" effect, I believe the industry was able to put forward the value. It has a better understanding of it now. The perception of our industry is much improved from that time, which in any case, was completely wrong.


Ray Bloom is the chairman and founder of the IMEX Group, which organizes worldwide exhibitions for incentive travel, meetings, and events in Europe and the USA. The award-winning IMEX exhibition takes place annually at Messe Frankfurt, Germany, and IMEX 2010 will take place from May 25-27. The newly-launched IMEX America will take place for the first time from October 11-13, 2011 in Las Vegas.

Ray Bloom has been a successful entrepreneur for many years. He commenced his career in the motor industry where his family’s Volkswagen Audi dealership won the Diamond Pin Award (the highest Volkswagen Award given to dealerships worldwide).

He subsequently entered the hotel industry and then the exhibition industry where he built up EIBTM (European and Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition), which was sold to Reed Elsevier in 1997. In addition, Bloom built up the leading sales and promotion exhibition, Incentive World, in London, which was also sold to Reed Elsevier in 2000.

While founding and developing what have become the leading trade shows in the meetings and incentive travel sector, Bloom also became heavily involved in numerous industry associations and has been recognized in a variety of ways, including being inducted into the CIC (Convention Industry Council) Hall of Leaders (1991); being awarded UK Personality of the Year by Meetings & Incentive Travel Magazine (1993); recipient of the ICCA (International Congress and Conventions Association) President's Award (1997); and being inducted into the WATA (World Association of Travel Agencies) Hall of Fame in 2000. In addition, Bloom served on the Board of Trustees for the MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Foundation from 1996–2002 and MPI’s Global Strategy Taskforce Committee from 2006–2008. He currently serves on the MPI European Foundation Board of Trustees. He also served on the Board of Trustees for the SITE (Society of Incentive & Travel Executives) Foundation from 1993–1999 and has recently been appointed Treasurer of the Site Foundation (March 2010).

Bloom’s views and opinions on the meetings and incentive travel industry are widely sought after, and he is a regular speaker at industry events around the world.

Interview with Ray Bloom on Economic Impact Study and IMEX
Ray Bloom, Chairman & Founder, IMEX Gruop / Image via

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