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CES 2022: CTA sounds off on Covid protocols, show size and biggest trends

CES trade show floor
(Image credit: Getty)

A year after going all digital, a somewhat smaller CES is returning to Las Vegas, and companies and attendees are preparing to return both in person and online. But what kind of CES should we expect? Will there truly be big announcements at the show this year? And most importantly, how will attendees be kept safe?

Tom’s Guide recently spoke to Jean Foster, the senior vice president of marketing and communications for the Consumer Technology Association, the organization that runs CES. And we got her thoughts on CES 2022, from attendance and trends to Covid protocols.

CES 2022: Covid protocols

In August, the CTA announced that every CES registrant would have to show proof of vaccination to attend the show. “We wanted to go out with that early because science shows the vaccines prevent the spread of disease,” said Foster. “We wanted to go out early to give people time to plan.”

U.S.-based attendees will have to use the Clear app to show proof of vaccination, while overseas visitors will use an as-yet-named third-party app. CTA also announced that CES would accept proof of antibodies for those who had Covid, but not received the vaccine. However, Foster said that because there isn’t a recognized standard, they were still working on implementing that.  

Within the show itself, all attendees will be required to wear masks, as per local guidelines. While social distancing is a bit of a nonstarter at one of the largest tradeshows in the world, Foster said they were working to ease crowding somewhat. 

“We’re widening aisles, creating more space between exhibits to try and alleviate those high-traffic choke points, and working with exhibitors to give them guidance on how to lay out their booths themselves, so they can manage traffic flows within their booths,” said Foster. “One of the benefits we have is that because the show is over multiple locations in Las Vegas, we use a lot of outdoor space as well.

“Our goal is to be very transparent,” she added. “The good news is, there’s lots of good models for us to follow. If you look at the NFL, the [Las Vegas] Raiders were the first group to go out and require vaccine, and mandates and they’ve got protocols in place. 

CES 2022: How big will it be?

Foster said that while she didn’t expect CES to hit the same highs in terms of attendance as previous years — the record was 170,000 — she was optimistic, noting that, as of late September, there were roughly 1,100 companies signed up to attend. That’s a quarter of the total number of exhibitors at the 2020 show. In fact, the total number of exhibitors in Eureka Park alone in 2020 was roughly 1,000. 

For those who attend virtually, Foster says that CES plans to do things a bit differently than last year, from cutting session length down to knowing where to place cameras. When you talk to a digital audience, you have to talk to them directly,” she said. “You can’t have a camera at the back of the room.”

In addition, the anchor desk will return, to better help virtual attendees figure out what to watch. 

Among the trends at this year’s show, Foster says that the automotive category will continue to grow. “This is going to be the biggest footprint we’re going to have,” Foster said, noting that the car showcase will be moved to the new West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which has about 600,000 square feet of space. “GM is going to be there — [CEO] Mary Barra chose CES 2021, the digital version, to make that massive announcement about their electric vehicle line." 

In addition, Foster was jazzed about Space Tech, a new category for this year’s show. “We have a company coming in called Sierra Nevada and they’re bringing a space plane.” That plane in question, the Dream Chaser, is scheduled to start cargo missions to the International Space Station in 2022.

Foster said that there had already been more than 1,800 applications for CES innovation awards — a bump over previous years — which she attributes to companies trying to solve Covid-related problems. “We’re starting to see technologies for the home, technologies for travel, healthcare, impacted by the pandemic,” Foster added.

Aside from companies that are usually at CES, Foster says that the biggest surprises are likely to come from companies that aren’t known for tech. 

“Three years ago, John Deere decided to participate in CES for the first time, and that was part of them repositioning themselves as a data and AI company,” Foster said. 

“Every company is a tech company now,” she added. “Think about Delta, think about John Deere. GM choosing to make their biggest strategic announcement. They’re resetting their strategy, and the way they know to do that is at CES.”

Mike Prospero

Michael A. Prospero is the deputy editor at Tom’s Guide overseeing the home, smart home, drones, and fitness/wearables categories, as well as all buying guides and other evergreen content. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine or some other cooking gadget.