Attendance Down 70% at the Tech Industry’s Biggest Gadget Show

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One of the biggest trade conferences in the world wrapped up on Friday, a year after its in-person component was canceled in favor of a digital-only event.

If anything can be said, it’s that the Omicron wave convinced a lot of people to wave goodbye to in-person meetings again. Las Vegas’ wildly popular Consumer Electronics Show drew 45,000 people last week, a 70% dropoff from the 170,000 who came to the pre-pandemic convention in January 2020. That’s not stopping the events industry from projecting a brave face for 2022.

It’s Not In-Personal

While it’s hard to imagine people missing the subpar hotel lobby croissants, last year saw a modest comeback for in-person industry conferences. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) estimates about 15 million people attended industry events in 2021, double the 2020 figure though still half of pre-pandemic 2019.

But the Omicron wave — which has sent Covid case numbers to record levels throughout the world — has clearly put a damper on things. Even though CES required attendees to wear masks and provide proof of vaccination, major firms including Amazon, Meta, T-Mobile, BMW, Lenovo, AT&T, Intel, GM, Google, and Twitter all canceled their in-person attendance in the weeks leading to the event.

Major organizers, for now, seem undeterred:

  • Informa, the world’s largest trade show organizer, said it plans to sell off £1.7bn in assets in its publications business and redeploy some of that into its events business.
  • According to CEIR, show cancellation rates of US business conferences improved to 19% in the third quarter of last year, a striking improvement from the 98% that canceled in the second half of 2020.

Not Buying It: The markets are still very skeptical. Informa’s stock price is down more than 35% since the start of 2020, France’s GL Events is down 25% and NYSE-listed Emerald Holding 62%.

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