The Future of MICE: Interview with IMEX CEO Carina Bauer
CEO of the IMEX Group Carina Bauer graduated from Oxford University, UK, in Politics, Philosophy and Economics in 1998, Carina began her career in retail and catering – setting up and running GoodBean Coffee – a family owned chain of coffee shops located throughout the South of England. As Managing Director, Carina was in charge of the expansion of the business which grew to 13 stores in 3 years and was sold to a publicly listed company in December 2001.
An avid skier, Carina enjoyed a short break working in a ski resort in Italy, before entering the meetings industry in 2002 as the Marketing and Operations Director for IMEX in Frankfurt as part of the original launch team for the exhibition. Following the expansion of the IMEX brand into America in 2009, Carina was appointed CEO of the IMEX Group. In this role, Carina is responsible for all aspects of the business.
Throughout her career, Carina has been an active member of the meetings industry. She was Chair of the Marketing Committee for MPI’s European Meetings & Events Conference, London (2008), has served on the Board of the MPI UK Chapter, the MPI International Multicultural Committee and on PCMA’s Global and Advocacy Taskforces. She is currently President Elect for the SITE International Foundation and a Director of the Meetings Industry Fund.
Carina lives on the south coast of the UK, near to the IMEX Group office in Brighton, called “London-by-the-Sea” for its cosmopolitan nature and youth culture. She enjoys spending time with her family (she’s a mother to two boys), and is a keen climber and skier, hitting the slopes with friends and family when she can.
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eTN Special Frank Tetzel caught up with Carina:
- Digitalisation is forcing us to rethink – what used to be valid is now being called into question. Formats such as CeBiT are dying and trade conflicts, such as the customs war between China and the USA, but also the Brexit that is due this year, have produced many uncertainties. How is the MICE industry reacting to this?
It’s certainly true that digitilisation and what some call the 4th industrial revolution is impacting every part of our lives; however, digitilisation is also leading to a greater demand for human and emotional connections to be fostered.
For the meetings industry this means that there is a huge opportunity in our new digital world to help people develop those connections, to help brands deliver their messages in exciting and emotional ways that cannot be achieved online.
The key issue for the MICE industry is not around demand – it is around ensuring that the meetings, events, exhibitions and incentive travel programmes that take place truly deliver the business and personal objectives of those taking part.
- According to various surveys, the industry sees event formats as shorter and more interactive in the future. What challenges will organisers on the one hand, but also locations on the other – also against the background of digital media – face in order to maintain or expand business?
I think one of the key challenges for organisers, venues and destinations is the growing demand for creative and unusual venues and spaces in which to hold events. The increased need to provide a ‘wow factor’ and take people out of their comfort zone means that organisers are increasingly looking to reinvent spaces like derelict warehouses, residential properties or outdoor spaces like parks.
More focus on the design of the meeting agenda means that the traditional lecture-style format is no longer enough. In order to provide different design options, spaces need to be larger, more flexible, have outstanding tech and varied furniture options.
This obviously presents a challenge for all, not least hotels and convention centres who are being called upon to renew and upgrade their space in more flexible ways, and develop partnerships with community suppliers, in order to maintain market share.
- How can the MICE industry master the balancing act between the digital transformation of events such as live streams and the experienced character on the other hand?
Research has shown that events which offer a ‘digital window’ into their content – in whichever way is appropriate – gain greater market share and ‘in-person’ delegate growth over the longer term. Therefore, event organizers should not be concerned about digital events or live streams cannibalizing their event attendance. Rather, it is clear that events are able to use technology to extend their reach and voice; as well as to enhance the live experience in fun and innovative ways.
However, it is also true that it is a challenge to mix the live and digital experience as the needs of each audience are very different. The only way to overcome this challenge is to design events and content very carefully to ensure that the personalized needs of the live audience are balanced with those of the online audience.
- Talking new event formats with a high adventure and experience character in MICE industry – an example are live cooking shows which are touring through different locations. How do you see this development in the next five years?
It is certainly true that the more ‘consumer-focussed’ events such as cooking shows, brand festivals, etc are having an impact on the meetings and incentive travel industry. This is because people no longer wish to be a ‘different person’ at home and at work.
They want their business events to not only deliver strong business results but also to be fun and enjoyable. The meetings industry is constantly learning from these type of fun experience led events and it’s very important that we incorporate interactive experience within business events in a way that enhances rather than detracts from the business need.
- Private equity companies and financially strong companies are increasingly pushing their way into the markets, and international trade fair giants are emerging, especially in Asian markets, which are increasingly threatening at least the German or medium-sized and local industry? From your point of view, what should the German and possibly also the European trade shows react to, or has the train already left from your point of view?
No, I don’t believe that the train has already left at all. At the end of the day, the success of a business event or tradeshow rests on one thing – the ability of that event to drive successful business results. Companies that focus on putting on high-quality events that truly address the needs of their clients and communities will be successful. The great thing about the business events market is that both large and small companies can be successful if they keep this in mind.
- For national and international specialists and high potentials, the event industry and MICE is increasingly uninteresting, because employers are no longer in a position to pay the salaries demanded accordingly. How do you make the industry attractive again for this important group?
I don’t agree that it is increasingly uninteresting as a career option. In global surveys, event management is increasingly in the top 10 desirable careers and we, at IMEX, run Future Leader Forums around the world for students who are interested in developing a career in the MICE industry. These events are always full and oversubscribed with bright and talented individuals.
Attracting the best and the brightest is crucial for the development of any industry and whilst it’s true that ensuring competitive salaries is an important aspect; so too must we ensure that we offer career development, job purpose and fantastic company cultures. These aspects are at least, if not more important, for the incoming generation of professionals and I believe that the MICE industry ranks very highly in these key metrics.
- In the United States, PowWow is the name given to the meeting of Indians to exchange ideas in person. But Pow Wows comes from the analogue world. Are they still necessary today or can they definitely be replaced?
As I said in the first question – the increasingly digital world that we are living in means that people crave human interaction and human connections. The ability of a ‘PowWow’ to create an emotional response or to develop a personal relationship is simply irreplaceable. There is no chance of the online world replacing what is a basic human need – human interaction.
The question simply, is how we design the interaction to ensure that the increasing demands of our customers are successfully met.
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