With vaccination rates escalating, in-person trade shows were supposed to make a roaring comeback in 2022, but the fast-spreading variant is threatening to ruin the party.

Just before Christmas, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter announced they were canceling plans for a physical presence at CES, tech’s mega show to be held in Las Vegas from January 5 through 8. Similar moves followed from T-Mobile, Google, Microsoft, Intel and numerous other tech giants.

Attendance was already expected to be about 25 to 40 percent of the last CES show held in 2020 due to pre-omicron concern over in-person events, foreign travel restrictions and the impact of chip shortages and shipping delays on products.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the show’s organizer, contends vaccination and masking requirements, the availability of COVID tests for attendees and the lower attendance will help ensure safety. CTA also said that, as of Monday, the exhibitor cancellations made up less than 10 percent of the show floor and that medium and small exhibitors count on CES to drive business.

“CES will and must go on,” Gary Shapiro, the CTA’s president and CEO, wrote in a column on Christmas in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Certainly, it will be different from previous years. It may be messy. But innovation is messy. It is risky and uncomfortable.”

CES represents the first show of the trade show season. Many other show organizers, exhibitors and attendees will be reassessing plans in the weeks ahead.

In a press release issued December 21, NRF said, with nearly one month left before the return of its in-person Big Show in New York City, the total number of exhibitors and square footage of exhibit space exceeds totals for NRF 2020. NRF said vaccination and mask requirements will now be supplemented by additional investments in health and safety measures, including on-site COVID-19 and PCR tests.

Matthew Shay, NRF’s CEO, said in a statement, “We are encouraged by conversations with our partners in the state of New York and New York City who support our efforts, and together we are committed to making this a safe and successful event.”


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