Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The coronavirus pandemic brought Las Vegas conventions to a jarring stop last year, but tourism officials hope trade shows gradually return in 2021.
The World of Concrete gathering in June will likely be a good measuring stick for a comeback, said Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
It is also the first large-scale trade show planned for the Las Vegas Convention Center’s new West Hall, a $980 million expansion project.
The show was originally scheduled for this month, but was pushed back to June because of the pandemic. A more condensed virtual version will also happen in February.
More than 50,000 people attended the show in February. Organizers are expecting close the same turnout this year, show spokesman Steve Pomerantz said.
Pomerantz didn’t offer specifics about how World of Concrete plans to get around state-mandated attendance caps if coronavirus restrictions aren’t relaxed.
Gov. Steve Sisolak in September raised the attendance cap for conventions to 1,000 people spread out in groups of no more than 250.
Public gatherings had previously been limited to just 50 people to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Pomerantz said World of Concrete organizers would continue to monitor the public health situation in Las Vegas.
“We have a number of options to consider as the event approaches,” he said. “We will continue to learn from similar events in other industries happening across the country as to how to best accommodate our audiences safely.”
Assuming the continued rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines goes as planned, Hill said, he’s confident the trade show industry will pick up steam during the second half of 2021.
“I’m optimistic, and I’m really looking forward to World of Concrete in June,” Hill said. “It looks to us like visitation will be able to pick up by then. Once it does, I think it will stay.”
Las Vegas has missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact from conventions during the pandemic. World of Concrete alone has an economic impact of about $93 million.
The Las Vegas Strip was shut down for more than two months starting in mid-March, after Sisolak ordered the statewide closure of casinos and other nonessential businesses to help control the virus.
From April through September, the LVCVA reported no conventions in Las Vegas. Beginning in October, it stopped reporting monthly convention visitation numbers because there was virtually nothing to report.
In 2019, more than 6.6 million conventioneers visited Las Vegas, according to the LVCVA. That number dropped to about 1.7 million in 2020.
A few weeks after the casino shutdown, officials with the CES electronic gadget show began to realize their January 2021 event likely would not be able to go ahead as planned.
“In April, I think we all knew that we might not be able to do it in person,” said Jean Foster, a marketing senior vice president for the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on CES.
When the three-day show kicks off on Monday, it will be in an all-digital, remote format because of concerns about COVID-19.
It’s another huge blow for Las Vegas.
In 2019, CES attracted about 170,000 attendees and 4,400 vendors. The economic impact was estimated at $283 million.
Penny Chutima, manager of Lotus of Siam’s two Las Vegas restaurants, said CES customers will be sorely missed.
“Some of the people we see every year,” Chutima said. “In a way, we’ve grown up with some of those companies.”
Instead of packed exhibit halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center, this year’s version of CES will feature virtual product demos, panel discussions and live chats.
It’s a far cry from what CES 2021 was supposed to be, including the coming out party for the Convention Center expansion and the Boring Company’s $52 million underground people mover.
Looking ahead to 2022, CES organizers foresee a show with physical and remote components.
Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, said hundreds of companies, many of them large and well-known outfits, have already signed up for next year’s show.
“If there’s one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that we want to be with each other,” Shapiro said. “We’re sad for our friends who make the physical show happen. We want to be with them in 2022.”
The LVCVA’s Hill said he hopes the CES virtual event is a success, but “you can’t replace the energy around an in-person event in Las Vegas. We’re looking forward to having all of our shows back, and CES is a big part of that.”