Biggest tech event returns after disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic

A contractor installs CES signage prior to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 3, 2022.

Is anyone going to CES this year?

A long-simmering question in the tech world will finally get its answer as the influential gadget show returns to the Las Vegas Strip after a disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know it’s going to be a smaller show this year, for obvious reasons,” said Jean Foster, senior vice president of the Consumer Technology Association, the event’s organizer. Several large tech companies have abandoned plans to attend in person. The latest sign of its downsizing was the announcement on Friday that CES will take place one day less than originally planned.

Sprawling exhibition halls open Wednesday as the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19 has heightened concerns about the safety of indoor events and disrupted international travel. At the end of December, CTA expected between 50,000 and 75,000 attendees for this week’s conference, compared to more than 170,000 who came for the last in-person rally two years ago.

Some CES devotees wondered if they should go home or stay home until last week.

“An online CES is not a real CES,” Prince Constantijn of the Kingdom of the Netherlands said in an interview in December. “You have to see the products and meet the people. But a week later, the royal who regularly serves as special envoy for Dutch tech startups had finally chosen to stay home. His country is sending a team of barebones to CES 2022. So are many big tech companies – if they send anyone at all.

The last physical CES in January 2020 injected roughly $ 300 million into the Las Vegas economy. Few of the participants would then have been aware of the coronavirus epidemic emerging in central China and still a few months away from being declared a pandemic. CTA hosted the conference online in 2021, as COVID-19 hospitalizations increased globally and vaccines were not yet widely available.

The trade group announced eight months ago that it was set to return to Nevada in 2022, but would offer remote participants options to view part of it virtually. Those who attend CES must show that they are fully vaccinated and will receive a COVID-19 test kit along with their conference badges. Masks are mandatory inside.

“CES is perhaps the most economically important convention event of the year,” said Alan Feldman, a former casino executive who is a fellow of the University’s International Gaming Institute. from Nevada to Las Vegas. Even a drastically reduced event will be “something to look forward to” for local hotels, restaurants, casinos, retailers and entertainment teams, Feldman said.

With a smaller audience and the same sprawling footprint occupied by some 2,000 exhibitors, and a desire to keep people at bay, CTA’s Foster said the “main change for people” would be more empty space and aisles. wider.

Much of the omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, but scientists say it spreads even more easily than other strains of coronavirus. This week, thousands of U.S. flights were canceled due to winter storms in parts of the country and airline staff shortages linked to COVID-19 infections. About 5% of scheduled flights to Las Vegas were grounded on Monday, according to tracking service FlightAware.

Even without a pandemic to slow the party down, tech industry analyst Carolina Milanesi said “big industry events like this are becoming less important than before” as digital technology has provided more. ways to network and follow trends.

Previously, CES stood for Consumer Electronics Show, but Milanesi said the decades-old gathering has become less of a place to find the next line of consumer gadgets and more focused on longer-term tech cycles, like self-driving cars or artificial intelligence applications. merged into smart homes and cities.

“You don’t go to CES anymore to see what will be in the Best Buy near you by the summer,” Milanesi said.

New exposure categories focused on digital assets called non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, as well as space technology and food, are reflecting the latest buzzwords on the minds of investors and marketers. Some companies are also planning to promote their vision of the next generation of the Internet – a collection of virtual worlds known as the metaverse – albeit explored from the confines of a physical conference room.

Milanesi has been attending CES regularly for a decade to keep tabs on tech companies and trends, but public health concerns have left her wondering if she would go this time around. She made the final decision to attend in mid-December, but plans to do things differently – visiting the showrooms but skipping the big events that she can watch from her hotel room. .

“I haven’t decided on the cocktail hour yet,” she said. “It’s a great reason to go to CES and meet people face to face. With a drink in hand, people feel a little more comfortable discussing things.”

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