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  • Writer's pictureDan Berger

Will COVID19 Put an End to Trade Shows and Exhibitions?

In-person attendance at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the first major trade show of 2022, was down more than 75% this year from 170,000 two years ago to 40,000.

CES is the perfect example of broader trends affecting trade shows: tensions between public health concerns, personal risk tolerances, and an unrelenting desire for in-person gatherings. If you’ve ever participated in the trade show circuit, you’re probably wondering whether they’ll have a place in our COVID plagued world.

To predict what the short- and long-term future likely holds, we must first understand the role of events like these. Trade shows and exhibitions (“mega conferences”) actually served as catch-alls for a ton of smaller events, rolling them all into one multi-day hotel ballroom bonanza. The setup provides a certain level of convenience, enabling people to get the benefits of multiple events in a one-stop-shop environment.

Event tech is helping to transform this experience. Instead of walking from Ballroom A to Ballroom D, you’re able to get there with just one click and none of the hassle. Those used to paying upwards of $3,000 for travel and lodging to events like these are able to access a better experience at a fraction, if any, of the cost.

In addition to CES, we’re already seeing other large flagship exhibitions demonstrate the potential of hybrid events: the TechCrunch Disrupt annual conference featuring panels, a startup showcase, and technology demos was conducted on Hopin for 2020 and 2021. TechCrunch published user guides ahead of the event to help virtual attendees orient themselves to the programming and navigate between the different exhibitions.

The demand for trade shows hasn’t gone away. It has shifted. CES 2022 tested in-person demand but the plans were throttled by Omicron. Just a few short weeks before the event, a number of big names including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon opted not to join in-person programming at CES in light of the new variant. All of the companies that declined to travel to Las Vegas opted to join the show and debut their exhibits virtually. Thankfully, the show always planned to conduct a hybrid event with a physical show in Las Vegas and a digital component using Summit Engine for those unable or unwilling to attend.

When I say event tech is helping to augment the experience for live big shows such as CES, it is for use cases just like this. There is still an appetite for in-person events and it will continue to grow as we crave experiences and connections. I suspect, however, that in-person attendance for these mega conferences will normalize at lower-than-previous numbers while virtual attendance will increase to new records.

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