COVID-19 has just claimed another travel. industry victim. The Consumer Electronics Show, one of the largest trade shows in the world, has been cancelled as an in-person event. Instead of the show taking over Las Vegas from January 6 to 9, 2021, CES 2021 will be all-digital.
“This will allow the entire tech community to safely share ideas and introduce the products that will shape our future,” the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) announced on July 28.
“Amid the pandemic and growing global health concerns about the spread of COVID-19, it’s just not possible to safely convene tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas in early January 2021 to meet and do business in person,” Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CTA, said in a statement. “Technology helps us all work, learn and connect during the pandemic . That innovation will also help us reimagine CES 2021 and bring together the tech community in a meaningful way. By shifting to an all-digital platform for 2021, we can deliver a unique experience that helps our exhibitors connect with existing and new audiences.”
In January, CES 2020, the largest tech event in the world, was attended by 170,000 people, with thousands of exhibitors crammed into its 2.97 million square feet of exhibition space.
CES had an estimated economic impact of $283.3 million on the Las Vegas economy. That money, that y went to hotels, entertainment venues and restaurants,, and to bartenders, blackjack dealers, taxi drivers, hotel workers, dancers, and event planners, is apparently gone.
When the CTA told us earlier this month that the plan was for the 2021 CES to continue as a live, in-person, show we had many questions.
- How would quarantines and travel restrictions around the world affect attendance?
- Would enough flights be available on drastically-cut airlines?
- Could the show’s hotels, transportation, press conferences, keynotes, parties, and giant exhibit halls be kept acceptably safe?
- Would companies let key executives travel in an environment where the pandemic has not been controlled?
- Would exhibitor pay for expensive booth space and send people to man them?
- How would Las Vegas go from a Strip limited to gatherings of 50 people or less under pandemic regulations to hosting 100,000 people?
- Would enough people come during a pandemic to make holding CES worthwhile?
Ultimately, CTA decided that with a pandemic still raging that has killed over 660,000 people worldwide, participants safety could not be assured. “With the growing global health concerns about the spread of COVID-19, it is not possible to safely convene tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas in early January 2021 to meet and do business in person.”
By going all-digital, CES has both bowed to the inevitable and entered uncharted territory. The re-imagined show promises to provide what people have come to see and do for more than 50 years, digitally.
CTA says the show’s famed keynotes and conferences will continue. (I’ve heard speakers there from Bill Gates to James Cameron.). “Now you’ll have a front-row seat for groundbreaking announcements and insights from the world’s tech leaders completely online.”
The show of course will be a product showcase. According to the CTA, “With this digital evolution of the CES show floor, you’ll be able to explore products and services, based on your interests and business, through dynamic product showcases or live demos.”
And yes, attendees will get the chance to meet and network , a critical component of trade shows and conventions, virtually. Digital devices will let you “ngage with the brands, thought leaders and business connections you care about with live interactions, meetups or round-table discussions.”
How this will all happen hasn’t been spelled out yet. But with more than five months to go before CES, there’s plenty of time to fill in the blank and show exhibitors and attendees how this new “highly personalized” digital experience will all work.
As CTA Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications Jean Foster said before the final decision was announced, “We will be able to bring more eyeballs than normal foot traffic. We will attract and bring in a broader audience, either physically or digitally.”
The announcement even had something for trad show traditionalists who prefer to sample the wares and press the flesh in person. The CTA said, “We plan to return to Las Vegas for CES 2022, combining the best elements of a physical and digital show.”