This week the largest business-to-business, face-to-face exhibition in the United States, CES® 2021 moved to an online, all digital event. In 2019, the UFI-approved event had 170,000 visitors, 6000 media, and 4000 exhibiting companies from every corner of the world. This is the first time since 1967 that the exhibition will not be held in Las Vegas – or anywhere in person.
Releasing the ‘pivot’ to virtual so early (its scheduled dates were January 6-9, 2021) sent reverberations all around the United States exhibition industry which has been severely injured by both the COVID-19 Pandemic and the national government’s failure to contain the outbreak.
Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CES’s owners and UFI member) released a statement (click here) naming a number of possible causes for the digital migration, but the true reason underlying the decision was, “We concluded it is simply not possible to safely gather over 100,000 people indoors with a raging COVID-19 virus and no real hope for a tested and widely available vaccine by January. The world does not need more COVID-19 cases, and we decided we would do our part by ensuring we are not helping spread the disease.”
The fear of spreading the disease is real. The repercussions of an outbreak from a huge international event is something we collectively as an industry are all working hard to avoid.
Yes, CES cancelled its physical show. It’s shocking. Many of us here in the U.S. kept thinking, “It’ll be ok as long as CES happens in January. We can hold on that long (maybe).” Now it’s not. That’s reality, as is the fact that digital events are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
The loss of exhibitions around the world impacts so many more people than those of us in the industry. We are going to feel the loss from COVID-19 globally for a long time. So are the hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized companies who have lost one of their primary ways of marketing and selling their equipment, products and/or services, or launching a new product.
What this time does represent is opportunity.
Now is an opportunity to start new ventures. It’s an opportunity to throw out the centuries-old way of doing business and start fresh. It’s a chance to truly focus on enhancing the connections and relationships between buyers and sellers – and our shows – and not simply sell real estate.
We’re stuck with COVID-19 for now and the near future. Our industry is full of resilient and clever planners. Let’s dust off the permeating smell of defeat and get planning for that future. Today.