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CES 2022’s attendance was hit by the Omicron variant of COVID, with numbers of 45,000 participants and 2,300 exhibitors.
The numbers have dropped from 171,000 attendees and 4,400 exhibitors at the last personal event in January 2020, according to the Consumer Technology Association, the industry group hosting the show in Las Vegas. There were 1,800 media, but for the first time in decades, I was not among them.
The personal show was canceled in 2021 and moved to online only, but the group made the decision to move on with the event in the first week of January despite the rise of the coronavirus variant. In a LinkedIn post, CTA chief Gary Shapiro defended the decision to move on. Back in November, Shapiro expected maybe half the usual size for the show, but it turned out that Omicron was driving it even lower.
CTA stood by this decision, even when big companies like Intel, Twitter and many others decided to pull out of the show at the last minute. As these companies withdrew, a number of my appointments were canceled and it made it easier for me to decide to retire in the last week before the event.
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But many smaller companies could not as they had spent a lot of money on their stands and could not get refunded at the last minute. An exhibitor told me that CTA would not let them out of the contract, so they decided not to leave and then tried to get through it with a presence only online and a virtual stand.
Shapiro noted that the cancellations from the big companies became a “huge media story, amplified by each new departure. Journalists across the Twittersphere expressed their skepticism that a personal show was possible, and many announced their own intentions – based either on personal beliefs. or corporate policy – to cover the show from a distance. “
He added: “That story changed dramatically when we came to Las Vegas. On earth, everyone seemed happy and excited. Exhibitors and attendees had an ‘attitude of gratitude’ that assured me we had made the right decision for the show. “When I talked to about 100 exhibitors and participants, I did not hear a single complaint – despite new demands for masking and social distancing.”
Shapiro said the team made decisions that exceeded the health and safety requirements for major events. In the summer, the group said it would require vaccinations for all participants, and later that masking was required for all indoor venues. CES expanded the hallways, spread conference seats to promote social distancing, and put some of the most exciting (and audience-driven) exhibits outside.
CTA brought Abbott Healthcare on board to provide free COVID rapid self-test kits to all participants as well as free on-site PCR testing to international visitors. On New Year’s Eve, CTA turned around and announced that it would shorten the show by one day to further reduce the risk of COVID transfer and address exhibitors’ staffing challenges.
“In part, our decision-making was guided by President Biden’s statements from December, in which he urged Americans to focus on masking, vaccinations and testing – but stressed that the country should not and should not shut down,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro noted Biden’s words that this is not March 2020. A number of members of Congress attended, including U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen, Shelley Moore Capito, Marsha Blackburn, Susan Collins, and Maria Cantwell.
“Ultimately, COVID will be with us for some time, and we need to find ways to live with that reality,” Shapiro said. “Several Fortune 100 CEOs made just that point to me when they praised the CTA for our leadership in hosting a personal CES.”
An advantage of fewer people was that the queues were not so long and those who walked could go to stands or events without much waiting time. That way, the easier attendance was a good thing. Smaller businesses also got a chance to shine.
Shapiro pointed out that there were a lot of digital healthcare products, with over a dozen companies exhibiting products designed to detect, track and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Shapiro noted that there are reports of participants testing positive even though vaccinations and testing were required. But he noticed that infections were popping up everywhere.
I think there is a little too much self-justification going on here. I acknowledge the dilemma and the difficult decision, but I also understand those who say that the CTA chose money over health. I chose not to go because I did not want to be a part of a superspreader event that would endanger members of my own family or friends when I returned. It may have been safe, but I have been to many events that say they are safe, and they really are not. I’m happy to see reports from people that they stuck to their procedures.
In gaming, the big question now is whether it’s smart to book travel for upcoming events like the DICE Summit in Las Vegas in February or the Game Developers Conference in March. The Entertainment Software Association, the organizer of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), has already announced that it will only go online for a show that normally attracts 65,000 people to Los Angeles in June.
Shapiro noted that the Business Travel Association, one of the largest trade groups in Washington, praised CES as “nothing less than a model for how business events can and should take place in 2022”, and called on other professional event organizers to follow its lead as they plan for this year.
“Ultimately, I am convinced that we did the right thing by choosing to move forward with CES 2022 as a personal event,” Shapiro said. “Not only did we adopt leading health measures, but we provided a critical platform for the thousands of companies – many of them small and medium-sized enterprises – that depend on CES. We also showed leadership and helped the industry define a ‘new normal’,” when we learn to live with the virus. “
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