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CES 2022 Excels, Despite Last-Minute Omicron Changes

The Consumer Technology Association put many safety protocols in place for the in-person part of its CES show. When some companies pulled out over Omicron concerns, CTA pivoted to provide a successful show for those who attended both in person and virtually.

The Consumer Technology Association’s CES 2022 wrapped up earlier this month, hosting a live show with more than 45,000 in-person attendees, along with a virtual component. The show’s organizers deemed it a success, despite several big name attendees—including Amazon, Google, and Microsoft—pulling out of the live show over concerns about the Omicron variant.

Jean Foster, CTA senior vice president of marketing and communications, said the last-minute changes weren’t ideal, but the show was remarkably successful for those who attended.

“I’m not going to lie; it was definitely a challenge,” Foster said. “Some companies pulled out altogether, but some companies said we still want to participate, just digitally only. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was planning to be there but decided to give his remarks digitally, so we pivoted to accommodate for that. We had to be very flexible. It was a lot of work, but the feedback for those who continued to participate with us, was they were grateful for that flexibility.”

Moving beyond the last-minute changes, Foster gave us the highlights of how CTA made the event safe for live attendees, while also providing a synchronous online experience for those who weren’t in Las Vegas.

In-Person Safety Paramount

For the in-person component of the show, CTA made safety its highest priority, requiring vaccination to attend as well as masking while onsite. To ensure only vaccinated attendees came to the venue, the show provided offsite badge pickup—including the airport—where vaccine status was verified prior to giving badges. CTA even provided COVID-19 testing kits to participants.

“We offered all attendees free Abbott self-test kits,” Foster said, noting that the president and CEO of Abbott was a keynote speaker and provided the tests for free. “The kit has two tests, and we recommended that everyone take the test before they arrived onsite and also two or three days after arriving.”

CTA also had to consider testing requirements for international attendees, which made up about a third of participants. Since those travelers needed to test negative for COVID-19 before they could board a plane home, CES arranged for free onsite testing for all international travelers.

In addition, the exhibit floor was designed to allow for social distancing. “We had more spacing between our booths and wider aisles than normal,” she said. “A number of our exhibits were outdoors, so we made a lot of steps to accommodate the physical layout of the show and to try to alleviate any of those points where you would get a lot of traffic and a lot of people coming together.”

For indoor conference sessions, chairs were socially distanced. CES also had mask ambassadors to hand out face coverings and remind attendees to wear them properly. Foster said attendees were very compliant with safety rules. “The people who were there were dedicated to being there and doing business and followed the protocols,” she said.

Even better for CTA, those who were there really enjoyed the show. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with large and small exhibitors and their feedback was, ‘fewer meetings, but higher-quality meetings,’” Foster said. “They got the deals done; they got the media coverage. They were able to spend more time with their clients and have more productive meetings.”

Digital Access Also Important

As mentioned previously, CES was a synchronous hybrid event. About a third of their conference sessions were available for livestreaming during the event, and all sessions were recorded for on-demand access through the end of this month.

“I would recommend organizations think about meeting people where they’re at and knowing that not everybody is going to want to participate physically,” Foster said. “But you still want to reach those attendees digitally, so think about how to do that digital engagement. And it’s not about creating avatars walking around a virtual show floor. It’s really looking at how companies are engaging with their audiences digitally and embracing that model.”

For CES, that meant giving virtual attendees the ability to have meetings with exhibitors and chat with fellow participants. “There was an ability to connect and network just as you would in a live show,” Foster said. “It’s not the same as bumping into somebody on the show floor, but it was a way of having people connect with each other, and that was very actively used by attendees.”

(Handout photo)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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