Is anyone going to CES this year?
A long smoldering question in the tech world will finally get its answer when the influential gadget show returns to the Las Vegas Strip after a hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For obvious reasons, we know it will be a smaller show this year,” said Jean Foster, senior vice president of the Consumer Technology Association, the organizer of the event. Several large tech companies have given up their plans to attend in person. The most recent sign of its dwindling size was Friday’s announcement that CES will be a day shorter than originally planned.
The sprawling exhibition spaces will open on Wednesday as the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has increased concerns about the safety of indoor events and has impacted international travel. The CTA expected between 50,000 and 75,000 attendees for the conference this week in late December, up from more than 170,000 who attended the last face-to-face meeting two years ago.
Until last week, some CES supporters were debating whether to stay home or stay home.
“An online CES is not a real CES,” said Prince Constantijn of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in a December interview. “You have to see the products and get to know the people.” But a week later the Royal, who regularly acts as special envoy for Dutch technology startups, decided to stay at home. His country is sending a barebone crew to CES 2022. So are many large technology companies – if they send anyone at all.
The last physical CES in January 2020 pumped an estimated $ 300 million into the Las Vegas economy. Few participants would have known at the time of the coronavirus outbreak in central China, which was months away from being declared a pandemic. The CTA took the 2021 conference online as COVID-19-related hospitalizations increased around the world and vaccines were not yet widely available.
The trading group announced eight months ago that it was ready to return to Nevada in 2022, but would offer attendees the chance to see part of it virtually, remotely. Those traveling to CES will need to show they are fully vaccinated and will be given a COVID-19 test kit with their conference badges. A mask is required inside.
“CES is perhaps the most economically important event of the year in terms of conventions,” said Alan Feldman, a former casino manager and fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Even a significantly scaled-down 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 space of around 2,000 exhibitors, and a desire to keep people at bay, CTA’s Foster said the “main change for the people” will be more empty space and wider aisles.
Much is still unknown about the Omicron coronavirus variant, but scientists say it spreads even more easily than other strains of coronavirus. Adding to the complications for CES this week were thousands of U.S. flights due to winter storms in parts of the country and ongoing airline staff shortages related to COVID-19 infections. According to the tracking service FlightAware, around 5% of scheduled flights to Las Vegas were suspended on Monday.
Even without a pandemic to dampen the party, tech industry analyst Carolina Milanesi said “big industry events like this are becoming less important than they used to be” as digital technology offers other ways to network and keep up with trends.
CES used to stand for Consumer Electronics Show, but Milanesi said the decade-long meeting has become less a place to find the next line of consumer devices and more focused on longer-term technology cycles like self-driving cars or artificial intelligence applications. merged into smart homes and cities.
“You no longer go to CES to see what will be near you at Best Buy by summer,” said Milanesi.
New expo categories around the digital assets referred to as non-fungible tokens or NFTs, as well as space technology and food, reflect the latest technology buzzwords in the minds of investors and marketers. Some companies also plan to hype their vision for the next generation of the Internet – a collection of virtual worlds known as a metaverse – despite being explored from the confines of a physical conference space.
Milanesi has been attending CES regularly for a decade to keep an eye on tech companies and trends, but public health concerns made her ponder whether she would attend this time around. She finally decided to attend in mid-December, but plans to do things differently – she visits the exhibition halls but skips large lecture events that she can watch from her hotel room.
“I haven’t decided on the cocktail hours yet,” she said. “It’s a big reason to go to CES and meet people face to face. With a glass in hand, people find it a little easier to discuss things. “