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Convention industry outlook strong despite COVID-19 obstacles

Updated January 17, 2022 - 11:24 am

World of Concrete, a construction show specializing in masonry materials and services, and the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show, the largest firearms and ammunition event of its kind, both begin Tuesday in Las Vegas.

They come a little more than two weeks after CES, which drew only a quarter of the anticipated attendees and has event organizers wondering how the rest of the year’s convention calendar will unfold.

Ongoing COVID-19 concerns have industry insiders trying to determine whether the smaller crowds at CES were an aberration brought upon by the cancellation of appearances by scores of key technology companies — or a sign that more trouble could be ahead.

A firsthand account of CES by National Association of Broadcasters president Curtis LeGeyt has given that organization more confidence in holding its own show in April, an NAB colleague said.

“The fact that CES was able to move forward has demonstrated to people that even with the 45,000 or more that they had, it was still a very large event and it shows Vegas can handle that kind of event and that people come in and do it safely,” according to Chris Brown, executive vice president and managing director of NAB Global Connections and Events.

With two traditionally large conventions scheduled in Las Vegas this week and one of the city’s biggest shows — and a CES look-alike — on the calendar for April, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is trying to read the attendance outlook in advance.

The NAB show, an event that spotlights technology as well as content, is scheduled for April after three attempts to stage shows in 2020 and 2021 ended in cancellation.

While most shows gauge their success by the size of the square footage of their trade show floors, Las Vegas executives are more interested in show attendance because those numbers translate into economic impact for local businesses.

CES ‘nothing short of a model’

The Consumer Technology Association, operator of CES, considered its show, held this month, a success because it brought the industry together in person for the first time since 2020. CES 2021 was exclusively online.

“The CES show floor buzzed with the joy of human interaction with products that will redefine our future and change our world for the better,” CES officials said in a recent release. “CES 2022 furthered global business as the tech industry gathered — many for the first time in two years — to collaborate, forge partnerships, make deals and advance the economy. Attendees were thrilled to welcome our industry back together again to experience the latest innovation.”

The association also was praised for sticking to some of the most thorough health and safety measures imposed for a large gathering, including ordering all attendees to be vaccinated for COVID-19, a strict mask requirement on all show floors and on shuttle transportation between show venues, and the free distribution of COVID self-tests.

“By staging an influential live event that safely convenes thousands of global professionals across the technology, business and political spectrum, CES is nothing short of a model for how business trade events can and should take place in 2022,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, a big supporter of the conventions industry. “It is our sincere hope that other professional event organizers will follow their lead this year.”

Dow said the success of this year’s CES would contribute to the recovery of business travel in general and related industries.

“Of critical importance, it is producing jobs for American workers who are dependent on the safe return of all sectors of travel, which accounted for one in 10 U.S. jobs pre-pandemic,” he said.

One show attendee said CES was a big success despite the low turnout.

“Despite the reduced number of attendees, given the current circumstances the Swisstech delegation was extremely satisfied with the quality of attendees and media attention,” said Caroline Blaser, the head of Swiss Business Hub USA. “CES again provided us with the ideal forum to showcase Swiss innovation — from consumer and health tech to AI and blockchain.”

World of Concrete

Steve Hill, president and CEO of the LVCVA, told his organization’s board members that he expects a strong showing for World of Concrete “because the construction industry always shows up.”

Informa Markets, operator of World of Concrete, called its June show in Las Vegas — the first major trade show staged in North America last year — “a very successful scaled-back return to live events.” Around 60,000 people normally attend the show at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which this year will use three indoor exhibition halls, four outdoor exhibits and event lots and more than 1,000 industry suppliers.

Informa noted the traditional construction industry calendar for the $67.6 billion industry was partially responsible for the lower-than-average turnout in June because some of the usual attendees were committed to construction jobs then and couldn’t come to the convention because of their work schedules.

While World of Concrete isn’t requiring show attendees to be vaccinated, it will require masks to be worn indoors. Organizers say the mask requirement won’t apply to outdoor exhibits and activities. One of the highlights of the show every year is an outdoor bricklaying competition pitting workers against each other for speed and construction quality.

SHOT Show

The Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show — known as the SHOT Show — is growing, with a second exhibit venue in addition to The Venetian Expo. The organizing Firearm Industry Trade Association said more than 800,000 square feet of exhibits — about 14 football fields’ worth — will be split between The Venetian and Caesars Forum.

It’s the 23rd time the show for the $7.1 billion firearms and ammunition industry has been staged in Las Vegas and the 12th straight year that it’ll be at The Venetian.

More than 2,300 exhibitors are scheduled at the event.

“Right now, I’d put the Las Vegas over-under at 43,000 for attendance,” said Chris Dolnack, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Firearm Industry Trade Association. “I’ll be betting on the over.”

The show normally draws more than 60,000 people, including 2,000 media members. The event was canceled in 2021.

Organizers expect the event to produce $88 million in economic impact for the community.

Like the World of Concrete, the SHOT Show will have no vaccination requirements but will require all attendees to wear masks.

Managers of World of Concrete and the SHOT Show plan to keep their attendees safe by enforcing the state’s mask mandates and by providing wide aisles to promote social distancing on show floors.

Lindsay Schaeffer of ConVexx, which is managing the SHOT Show floor, said security would be on site to enforce the state mask mandate.

NAB

In an interview with the Review-Journal, Brown, the executive vice president and managing director of NAB Global Connections and Events, said he was upbeat about the show coming up April 23-27.

“By April, we could be in a relatively good spot, barring any other significant new variants or issues related to the pandemic,” Brown said.

NAB organizers, he said, “would prefer a less restrictive approach if it is at all possible, but in the end we have to do what’s going to make people feel comfortable and provide the safest environment, and right now, that’s vaccine and the mask requirement.”

Like the LVCVA’s Hill, Brown is hopeful that the omicron variant is a meteoric event that burns itself out within weeks, allowing a more normal setting for large gatherings in the near future.

Important component

That projection is extremely important to Las Vegas tourism in general and the meetings industry specifically.

“MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) is an important component to our recovery and the current variant has extended that term,” said Brendan Bussmann, director of government affairs for Las Vegas-based Global Market Advisors. “I think we saw how much of an impact the current variant had on CES. However, they (the Consumer Technology Association) did establish a protocol for health and safety for their attendees.”

The convention calendar also is a factor, he said.

“The challenges that many of these shows have is, if they postponed, there is very little availability in the calendar until 2023,” Bussmann said. “Some of these shows have not met for two years, and they want to bring back commerce and business with attendees.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian and The Venetian Expo.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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