Industry conventions on the verge of the omicron

Upon arrival at the International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center, attendees are photographed in front of the sign.

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Canceled Broadway shows. Closed restaurants. Queues of people lined up around the block near medical clinics. Companies send their employees home.

It looks like a flashback to March 2020. The highly contagious variant of the omicron causes a wave of infections. In New York, the wave is particularly noticeable, with the seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases nearly doubling over the past week, according to CNBC’s analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

The ability of this option to overcome protection from the Covid vaccination has prompted people to rethink everyday activities such as eating out in restaurants. This has delivered a $ 100 billion conference and event industry. The pandemic has brought an industry that revolves around large crowds to an abrupt halt last year as social distancing measures were taken.

In recent months, the convention industry has gotten back on its feet. In the summer, billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates left for Idaho for an Allen & Co. conference. in the Sun Valley. And the Bitcoin 2021 event in June brought together thousands of cryptocurrency enthusiasts in Miami.

Exhibition Industry Research Center It is estimated that conferences that stimulate the business of hotels, airlines and local restaurants contributed more than $ 101 billion to US gross domestic product in 2019. CEIR chief economist Dr. Allen Shaw predicted in September that these meetings would return to roughly 75-80% of 2019 levels next year – with a full recovery by 2023.

But that was before omicron, now the most dominant Covid strain in the United States, entered the scene. So far, event organizers have mixed feelings about whether next year’s meetings will go as planned. Attendance levels are likely to depend on corporate travel policies and local health and safety protocols.

The World Economic Forum, which will bring together heads of government and business leaders from around the world in Davos, Switzerland, was scheduled for next month but was postponed until summer. The group said it made the decision “in light of the continuing uncertainty over the omicron outbreak.”

JPMorgan Chase changed course at its big annual health conference after key attendees dropped Covid concerns. He intended to conduct it in person in San Francisco next month. The event, known as one of the largest gatherings of healthcare leaders in the world and a hotbed of deals, now takes place in a virtual format.

Increase in the number of Covid protocols

However, the National Retail Federation said Tuesday that its “Big Show”, which will take place at the Javits Convention Center in New York from January 16-18, is still in progress.

A leading retail trade group is asking all participants to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and wear masks at all times in the building. The NRF also advises participants to test themselves for Covid at home before traveling to Javits. The group said it will offer PCR tests at the convention center during the event.

“Like all of our members, we keep a close eye on the external environment for health,” said NRF President and CEO Matt Shay in a statement. “We will continue to work with local, state and federal health authorities to ensure that we comply with and exceed safety rules and regulations.”

In a separate email sent to the speakers who lined up for The Big Show, the NRF advised that if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of New York and Manhattan deemed it safe, the event would proceed as planned.

“We currently have no plans to move to the virtual marketplace, but if this decision is made, it is likely to be delayed given the complexity of this pivot,” says an NRF email that was reviewed by CNBC.

The Consumer Electronics Show will continue to be held in Las Vegas from January 5-8, according to event organizers.

A spokesperson for the event said CES has received several thousand new signups since last week, even amid concerns over the omicron. CES requires participants to be fully vaccinated and to wear masks. It also reduces productivity and preserves some of the social distancing measures.

“We are confident that exhibitors and exhibitors will receive a socially remote, but rewarding and productive event,” the spokesperson said.

However, large tech companies including Amazon, Meta Platforms, Twitter and Pinterest have said they will not be sending teams to CES this year due to Covid concerns. But other companies like Google, Qualcomm and General Motors say they are still on track to participate and showcase new products.

A spokesperson for the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is slated to host CES, said the venue is currently hosting about 45 trade shows with at least 5,000 attendees next year.

‘We’re getting closer’

David Dubois, President and CEO of the International Association for Exhibitions and Events, said large-scale events should continue as long as adequate security measures are taken at the sites and local requirements are met. According to him, people, of course, decide for themselves whether to go or not.

“Over the past few months, the exhibition industry has demonstrated ways to safely conduct events,” Dubois said in a telephone interview. “We’ve had hundreds of these in the last three to four months.”

Even with the Oomicron, Dubois expects the industry to recover, he said.

In Orlando, Florida, conference activity began picking up again in July before it experienced a slight downturn during the delta drop, said Mark Tester, executive director of the Orange County Convention Center. The Orlando Convention Center is the third largest in North America after the Las Vegas Convention Center and McCormick Place in Chicago.

The pace of conventions tends to slow during the holidays, Tester said, and there have been no cancellations of January concerts in Orange County so far. Cancellation of these events at the last minute, he said, is not only subject to financial sanctions, but also industry morale.

“We haven’t heard any questions or thoughts about going virtual or doing anything with [an] an event due to the omicron variant, the Tester said. – It can affect the attendance. … But we work with everyone according to their protocols. “

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