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  • Richard M. Williams

CES 2022 reboots in uncertainty

With a few weeks until the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) exhibit floors open on January 5, CES 2022 faces an uncertain reality after last year’s all-virtual experience. This year’s event will be drastically different from pre-COVID years with hundreds of thousands in attendance while the emergence of Omicron COVID-19 only adding to questions on how many people will show up.

Health safety top of mind

Attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination before receiving a CES badge. CLEAR, the company offering expedited airport security check-in services, is providing an electronic proof-of-vaccination “Health Pass” at no cost for U.S.-based attendees. Details on how international attendees will provide proof-of-vaccination for attendance is expected to be published by show organizer Consumer Technology Association (CTA) in early December.

Mask wearing requirements remain a work in progress, with CTA saying it will comply with local masking policies and issue final guidelines in December.

CTA has put in wider aisles in the exhibit areas – a welcome addition that hopefully will remain moving forward. Anyone caught in the scrums at previous shows understand the massively packed bottlenecks of people that form around popular booths at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and Eureka Park in the basement of the Venetian Expo (formerly known as Sands Convention Center).

Less space, same amount of local travel

CTA’s late November press release put the number of 2022 real-world exhibitors at over 1,700 while the 2020 CES show had over 4,400 exhibitors and around 171,000 total attendees.

Fewer people and exhibitors don’t translate to fewer locations or exercise steps, however. Events and exhibits are still distributed between the traditional locations of LVCC, Venetian Expo, and ARIA hotel. CES Unveiled, the preview show for new companies and products, and pre-show media press conferences are still located at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 3 and 4 prior to the opening of the exhibit floor on January 5.

Exhibit locations have been shuffled around a bit, with less overall exhibit space than previous years. Automotive tech has been relocated into the shiny new LVCC West Hall, adding 600,000 square feet but is offset by no exhibits at LVCC South Hall, the Westgate Hotel and Renaissance Hotel. An expanded Health Tech area will be located at LVCC North Hall, replacing the automotive presence.

Across town, the Venetian Expo and the ARIA will be open for business as usual, with the Venetian holding Eureka Park for start-ups and national delegations in the basement and Smart Home on the main floor, minus Health Tech relocated to North Hall LVCC. ARIA continues to host the C Space advertising, entertainment, and content contingent.

PEPCOM’s Digital Experience and ShowStoppers, evening tabletop press events run independently of CES, will resume operations with press attendees expected to show proof of vaccination to be admitted. Neither event has published an estimate as to how many exhibitors they expect to host.

Fewer people… better experience?

How many people will show up in Las Vegas for CES is an open question, but it’s going to be significantly less than pre-COVID times. Informal polls on Twitter and LinkedIn have suggested only 30 to 40 percent of previous CES attendees will return to Vegas in 2022, which would be in line with the percent of exhibitors signed for the 2022 show.

Independent data in the form of Vegas hotel prices supports fewer CEs attendees. Outside of traditional CES locations such as Caesar’s Palace, Venetian, Westgate, and Wynn, spot checks on Strip and off-Strip properties at the end of November show there are deals still available between January 2 and January 7, 2022.

International attendance will be significantly down, with China likely to have the most dramatic decline due to extensive quarantine travel protocols for anyone traveling outside of the country, anywhere from 3 to 4 weeks of isolation upon return. The much higher expense of international airline tickets will deter many overseas from sending large contingents and just-announced Omicron-based travel restrictions by a number of counties will further discourage visitors coming from outside the U.S. Expect many international companies to take advantage of CES 2022’s virtual offering.

Grizzled CES veterans who do attend in person may find 2022 to be a refreshing change. With wider aisles and fewer people, the low-level stress from trying to move from point A to point B should be much less. People might make meetings on time, not have to wait 20-30 minutes in a cab line (OK, it’s 2022 so it’s the Lyft rideshare stop), and able to get into a decent restaurant at a reasonable hour without a reservation.

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