Energy. Most meeting planners would agree that’s a key ingredient to any successful conference, and the 2018 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition—held at McCormick Place Aug. 18-21—was full of it. From an electric-powered city diorama and a digital caricature artist to a nitro-frozen margarita machine and a St. Louis’ Gateway Arch replica, the exhibit floor was like Disneyland for planners, packed with entertainment, refreshments and Instagram moments, along with networking opportunities aplenty.
With just over 6,000 attendees, this year’s meeting marked the largest for the organization since 2007 and included more than 3,500 executives and 2,100 exhibitors, with a 63-to-37 ratio of buyers to sellers.
One reason for the huge attendance? The city of Chicago. “Probably the only place we could have a larger meeting is Washington, D.C.,” said ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, at a press conference.
David Whitaker, CEO of Choose Chicago, who also spoke at the press conference, said ASAE is one of the most important partnerships for the city. The last time ASAE met in Chicago was in 2007, when the west wing of McCormick Place was newly completed. He expressed his excitement to have the group back this year, saying, “nothing sells a city better than personal experience.”
For attendees who arrived Saturday, the first day of the conference, that personal experience kicked off with a bang—and a country twang—with an opening night celebration concert by Illinois native Brett Eldredge at the shiny new Wintrust Arena. Throughout the week, participants had multiple opportunities to join Chicago Experiences, from culinary and brewery tours to a Wrigley Field experience and a performance of the Broadway hit Hamilton. The closing night party was held at Soldier Field and celebrated the power of music through art, sound, color and energy.
It was Chicago’s chance to shine, and shine it did: Graham said the meeting brought in $20 million in revenue to the city, and he expects 20 percent of attendees from ASAE’s event will book the city for their own meeting in the next five years.