CES set for an in-person event in 2021

Brian Heater
Attendees visit the Amazon booth where a Rivian electric truck with Amazon Alexa integration is displayed, January 7, 2020 at CES 2020 in Las Vegas.

CES 2020 barely made it in under the wire, before COVID-19 gripped the world. The following month, Barcelona’s MWC was ultimately shut down, as the pandemic began to move across Europe. That was the first of many dominoes to fall, as events were either taken online or canceled altogether.

Seems CES won’t miss a beat, however. The CTA (CES's governing body) announced recently that it plans to go forward with the Las Vegas event in January 2021. Unlike Berlin’s IFA, which is purposely scaling back attendance, CES does not appear to have anything like an attendance cap in the works -- though organizers note they will continue to expand online events tied to the show, as it seems many would rather not risk the in-person event. 

The CTA also detailed the standard array of safeguards for show-goers. Those are as follows:

  • Regularly clean and sanitize spaces across the show venues and provide sanitization stations throughout;

  • Better enable social distancing, including widening aisles in many exhibit areas and providing more space between seats in conference programs and other areas where attendees congregate;

  • Issue best practices for attendees, such as wearing masks and avoiding shaking hands, and for exhibitors on product demonstrations;

  • Limit touch points throughout the facilities including through cashless systems for purchases and transactions;

  • Evaluate solutions for contactless thermal scans at key venue entry points;

  • Provide enhanced on-site access to health service and medical aid.

Organizers say they’re “working closely” with the Las Vegas community on other best practices. Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman has been particularly vocal in her opposition to COVID-related shutdowns. She referred to safety measures as "total insanity” in mid-April and offered to make her city a “control group” by opening casinos and other businesses to domestic and international travelers. A  $980.3 million expansion to the LVCC is also nearly complete, presenting a key incentive to bring the show back to the city, even in less than ideal circumstances. 

Many event planners, on the other hand, continue to be cautious as fears of additional COVID-19 waves spread across the globe. Given how notorious these conventions are when it comes to the spread of colds and flus in non-pandemic years, it seems safe to assume that many regular attendees will opt to sit this one out. Notably, the CTA is using the word "plan" here. It's hard enough to imagine what the world is going to look like tomorrow, let alone seven months from now.