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With attendee and exhibitor numbers getting closer to pre-Covid figures, the entire meetings industry is hopeful for a strong CES that sets the tone for the rest of 2023.

CES, formerly the Consumer Electronics Show, opens this Thursday, with press events starting today. The last estimate from organizers was 100,000 attendees, with the show footprint 70 percent larger than the 2022 edition. 

In 2020 it was one of the few large shows to go ahead before the Covid pandemic. In 2021 it was forced to go fully virtual. When the show returned to an in-person format in 2022, it took place during the Omicron wave and only around 45,000 attendees braved their way to Las Vegas.

In contrast, competitor show Mobile World Congress fared reasonably well in 2022. In 2020 it was the first major show to cancel.

CES 2023 by Numbers

Should attendance numbers be confirmed, this places the show at around 58 percent of 2020 attendance (171,000). This still ensures the show as “the largest independently audited post-pandemic tech event,” as highlighted by Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of organizers Consumer Technology Association. However, it falls well below the average 65 percent levels seen in the third quarter of 2022.

Regardless of final attendance numbers, the show’s 3,100 exhibitors (4,400 in 2020) is significant. A large show like this is important for Las Vegas, and the thousands of stakeholders involved in putting it on. Among these are the show’s official registration vendor Maritz Global Events, and its exposition services contractor Freeman.

Looking Beyond Technology

For the first time, CES has an official theme, Human Security for All (HS4A), built on a partnership with the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security. The official theme links with the idea of “tech for good,” which also includes sustainability, health, and safety. 

Diversity and Inclusion are also a core topic. Organizers were keen to showcase a diverse lineup of keynote speakers in leadership roles. Delta CEO Ed Bastian, a popular figure at Skift events, is the travel industry speaker featured.

While exhibitors are pushing tech products from VR to 5G, the marketing is placing technology as an enabler and not the main hero. We reported on a similar trend and evolution in the meetings industry in 2022. Negative press around NFT scams and cryptocurrency crashes has dented tech’s popularity, so hopefully, this shift is more than just diverting attention away from negative press.

AI Taking Over, But Event Tech Is Missing

With all the recent press around artificial intelligence (AI), it is not surprising that many exhibitors are focused on this technology. NFTs, sustainability, and robots are also popular, while the most significant decreases are in augmented reality and wearables.

Staple themes like IT hardware, finance, health, food, and mobility are strong once again. Companies like AMD, BMW, John Deere, Stellantis, and Nasdaq monopolize the list of keynote speakers.

The Metaverse and Web3-related products have a significant presence in the central hall. While some leaders actively promote the products, many question the value of this type of product. There are also questions raised about the value of showcasing them at a live show.

As in previous years, there is no event technology category. Why event technology companies are absent is not clear, but there are products on display that support meetings and events. The EMEET’s 360 Conference Camera is just one example of several video-meeting-related products featured.

The meetings industry is ever-present in creating the show, but many industry experts, including event technologists and event designers, are attending once again.

Streamed to a Digital Venue But Not Hybrid

Despite recognizing the challenges of creating hybrid events, CES organizers have created a digital venue for the 2023 show. A comprehensive digital extension to the show is likely the best way to involve the critical Chinese market, which continues to face travel challenges. Attendees traveling from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, are required to present proof of a negative Covid test prior to traveling to the U.S.

Keynote sessions will be live-streamed, just as before the Covid pandemic. This year, four distinct live stream channels are running live throughout the show, and over 100 sessions will be available on-demand until the end of February.

This will not be a full-blown synchronous hybrid event, far from it, however organizers are keen to offer ways for online participations to provide more valuable to both attendees and exhibitors. Borrowing from the previous editions during Covid, the digital venue will allow registered attendees to search for vendors, message them and have video meetings, all directly on the CES digital platform.

CES is hoping to set the tone for the rest of 2023 as the year that solidifies the meetings industry return to full swing. While the number of attendees will fall short, the number of exhibitors and, more importantly, the level of investment is a better indicator of what is to come in 2023 and something that all major industry players will be tracking.



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