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CES Goes Digital. Will Trade Shows Stay Remote Post-Pandemic?

Jan 12, 2021 by Maurie Backman
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It's a tech fan's paradise -- the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicked off on Jan. 11 and will run through Jan. 14. During this time, the latest, most innovative gadgets will be on display, with a particular focus this year on health and home automation products. But the big event won't be happening live in Las Vegas like it normally would. This year, CES is online only, and we can thank the coronavirus pandemic for that.

Of course, the fact that CES has been forced to go digital is a blow to Las Vegas hotels and surrounding businesses. In 2020, CES attracted a whopping 170,000 attendees -- participants who stayed and dined locally, pumping money into the Las Vegas economy. But there's a good chance this year's online-only version of CES will be a one-time deal. After all, once the pandemic ends, won't trade show sponsors be itching to bring people together once more?

Then again, if CES's digital version proves successful, it could pave the way for it and other trade shows to go online on a long-term basis. And while there are benefits to going that route, it would also constitute a major blow for real estate investors everywhere.

Will online trade shows become the norm?

CES is a big deal -- it's one of the most well-known trade shows around. If this year's online version goes well, there could potentially be talk of carrying out future versions in digital form to save on costs.

Of course, "potentially" is the key word here. It's actually somewhat unlikely that a major event like CES would pivot to permanent digital status if circumstances were to allow for a live, in-person version. But not every trade show has the backing and draw of CES, and if smaller trade show operators see strong online CES attendance this year, they may start to rethink in-person gatherings going forward. That would, of course, be a blow to convention centers and hotels across the country, as well as the people who invest in them.

In fact, cancelled trade shows don't just impact the buildings that would normally house them. They also hurt local businesses. When trade show attendees roll into town, they need restaurants to dine at, cab drivers to shuttle them to and from airports, and other local amenities to fall back on while away from home. Taking trade shows online could actually devastate smaller cities that rely on that revenue stream year after year.

It's premature to suggest that digital-only trade shows will become the norm. But could more of these events start taking place online even once the pandemic is over? Absolutely.

The Millionacres bottom line

In the near term, in-person trade show activity could actually pick up to compensate for 2020's numerous canceled events. And after a year of social distancing, live trade shows are likely to draw in even greater crowds once it's safe to do so. But once the coronavirus outbreak is (hopefully) nothing more than a distant memory, online trade shows could creep into the mix, especially if operators can point to success stories like CES's 2021 endeavor. That's something real estate investors ought to gear up for, just in case.

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