Triple vaxxed, masked, and fully caffeinated, we broke through the clouds over the Nevada desert in early January not certain what would await us at what had been the world’s largest trade show. While CES normally brings more than 170,000 to Las Vegas, no one knew how many would venture to America’s playground in the midst of a pandemic. And while attendance was down 75% over 2020, there were still more than 45,000 people from all over the world who did what they needed to do to reach Las Vegas for the big show.
CES was prepared. They’d struck a deal with Abbott Laboratories to be a show sponsor, and Abbott’s COVID rapid tests were available at badge pickup. The show also made the decision to require proof of vaccination and to move registration lines away from the Las Vegas Convention Center. So that meant badge and COVID test pickup at the airport or at the big hotels.
Same experience as before, but with a mask
I usually need a rental car during large events, and the entire process of waiting for luggage, riding to the rental car facility, and finding my wheels was easy enough — just a masked experience. Check-in at the hotel was straightforward, and no one looked happier to see me than the hospitality community so dependent on tourists and conventioneers.
We always arrive for CES and for the NAB Show a few days before most of the crowd, for exhibit setup. Aside from the requirements about masking and staying socially distant, there wasn’t much change from previous years. [Since CES, Nevada has lifted its state-wide indoor mask mandate. As of Feb. 24, the NAB Show still recommends masks for all exhibitors, attendees and staff at the show. —eds.]
While at CES, I did run into newly-minted NAB President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt who was at the show to talk with CES exhibitors to find out why they stuck with the show, even during the rise of the omicron variant. LeGeyt said he was pleasantly surprised at how upbeat people were — from behind a mask — and how engaged attendees were, in turn. The reaction gives him reasons for optimism about April’s NAB Show.
In short, while there were certainly fewer people in attendance, the people who came to CES this year were very serious about business. One of my business contacts had to get permission to attend from the Israeli government. It took four tries, but he finally got the green light to leave (and to come back). And if there was one thing that surprised me most about CES 2022, it was the number of international visitors who made the trip. I had wrongly assumed that this would mostly be a show of U.S. attendees and companies.
Even the big government affairs dinner at CES was well attended. The evening reception was held outdoors at the Wynn. Dinner was inside, and people were seated in a socially distanced manner and truly happy just to see each other after so much isolation.
On the show floor, while some big exhibitors put up static displays and kept staff at home, others took a different tactic. Samsung did things the smart way, choosing to have a fully-manned and complete exhibit but borrowing a page from Disney theme parks and controlling exhibit attendance by assigning times for visitation. I never expected to have a “fast pass” for a CES display, but the system worked well.
Any big city has experienced disruptions in commerce because of COVID-19, and Las Vegas is no different. The Starbucks and restaurant in the Grand Lobby of the Convention Center had greatly reduced hours and similarly, the complimentary breakfast at our hotel was slim pickings because of the number of cancellations and probably because of staffing issues.
Big changes in store for NAB Show
Those returning to the LVCC for the 2022 NAB Show will find some big changes — some really big changes — in store. The biggest one is the billion dollar (with a “B”) expansion of the convention center itself. The new West Hall now stands where the Landmark Hotel was felled for the movie “Mars Attacks.” In place of the parking lots just across Paradise Road from North Hall rises the mammoth West Hall, itself looking like a UFO from another planet. It’s a beautiful expansion of the already-enormous LVCC, linked by both a pedestrian walkway and a space-age underground transportation network.
The NAB Show will use the West Hall for the first time this year, housing pavilions like the “Future of Delivery,” “Connect Experiential Zone,” and Futures Park. If you need your Dunkin’ fix, rather than Starbucks, you can head to West Hall’s food court.
But the big change is underground. While the rest of the world was locked down during the pandemic, construction crews were busy finishing both the above-ground and below-grade expansions at the LVCC.
The Vegas Loop now connects, in figure-8 form, the new West Hall with a Central Hall Plaza underground transportation station and a similar arrival station at the back of South Hall (near parking lots for cars). The Loop is powered by a network of Tesla electric cars, which are human driven and not autonomous — for now.
This is the beginning of an underground network of bored tunnels created by Elon Musk’s Boring Company. Ascending into the subterranean world in the formerly grassy area outside Central Hall, you enter a world that looks like the Batcave — if the Batmobile was a Tesla.
A friendly driver can whisk you to the far reaches of the convention center in a couple of minutes — but that’s just the first step in a planned 20-mile, 50-plus station network of underground tunnels that might someday connect the airport to the LVCC and hotels in between. Expansions of the Loop are already in the works to bring visitors to the Wynn/Encore from the LVCC (finally!) and also over to the sparkling new Resorts World complex.
Las Vegas continues to evolve and change. When the Stardust opened in 1958, it proclaimed itself the world’s largest hotel — with more than 1,000 rooms. In its place today, the Conrad and Hilton hotels that anchor the Resorts World complex have three times that many rooms and a ritzy shopping mall, to boot — it’s worth a visit.
The MSG (Madison Square Garden) Sphere is under construction behind the Venetian, which will someday soon seat more than 17,000 people at arena events. The “Sands” moniker has disappeared from the convention center at the Venetian, quietly removed a few months ago.
We enjoyed some of the new sites, including a nightcap at Resorts World, tacos at Taco El Gordo (which all of a sudden is at the heart of the revitalization of the area near the West Hall), and a visit to the near Area 15 Entertainment Complex — an immersive art and bar scene that includes the latest outpost from artisans at Meow Wolf. If avant garde art isn’t your thing, then maybe axe throwing or a Jules Verne-style distillery will be!
In short, bring your sense of humor along with your mask to Las Vegas. The people of Las Vegas — and the people who bring you the NAB Show — are ready to have you back.
To register for the NAB Show, April 23-27 in Las Vegas, visit http://nabshow.com/2022/.
Dave Arland is president of Arland Communications and executive director of the Indiana Broadcasters Association.