Are Las Vegas Trade Shows Back Yet?


State of the Live Conference Circuit for Digital Keynote Marketing Speakers

So here's the deal.

I just got back from the Las Vegas Convention Center to deliver a digital marketing keynote at Amusement Expo International.

This was my first live keynote appearance since trade shows and conferences shut down after the global pandemic.

Conferences and corporate events are just starting to open up again.

It was exciting to get back to a trade show and conference and connect with people in the real world.

But a lot has changed.

So if you’re a keynote speaker, conference planner, exhibitor or conference attendee considering which 2021 events to put on your calendar, this post will help you decide how many shows to attend and give an idea of what to expect.

Regardless of what you may hearing, we are not back to business as usual.

And we may never be.

Because there are some lessons we learned from the lockdown that will stay with us. And they may wind up improving our lives in the future.

Conference planners are adapting logistically. They are reassessing the importance of one's physical presence on stage.

As would be expected, conference agendas as changing as well to accommodate participants immediate concerns relaunching their brands. And all that is happening as the hospitality and service sector struggles to staff up and fully rebound.

From Virtual to Live Keynotes

After nearly two years of virtual keynote presentations, US meeting and conference planners are finally starting to see renewed demand for corporate events, live trade shows and conferences again. 

But currently, those top marketing speakers who live outside the US still can’t reasonably accept speaker bookings. Sure, they can fly into Las Vegas or any other conference venue easy enough and deliver a keynote address. But they have to quarantine for 7 days to get back home.

At AEI, professional conference organizers William Glasgow, Kylie Savage and Chris Albaugh and location-based VR expert Bob Cooney developed a hybrid event production format, offering live panel discussions with participants on site and virtual via Zoom, displayed on the big screen. 

I moderated the Digital Marketing Masterclass with Pole Position Raceway family entertainment center operator Brad Marks and Hownd marketing technology solution provider Eric Keosky-Smith on stage, and two more panelists projected on a large screen via Zoom. One was Mark Lebouille from BMI Leisure in Belgium, and the other was Bob, piping in from down under.

Although he didn't appear on the panel, Eugene Lubbers from Briq Booking briefed me on their conversion optimization solution for family entertainment centers, which helped me prepare to moderate a marketing masterclass panel session directly following my digital marketing keynote.

When you’re teleconferencing in panelists and keynote presenters virtually from abroad, audiovisual technology becomes much more than just conference support. It becomes a central component of the conference agenda. 

To break through the fourth wall and offer a greater sense of intimacy to conference attendees, Bob Cooney – who emceed sessions on virtual reality attractions – used a drivable drone robot with an iPad screen to move about the audience, ask questions, and interact remotely with the conference attendees on a one-on-one basis. 

Let’s be real. Small businesses in the retail sector were laid bare by the pandemic. Restaurants, stores, theaters and family entertainment centers that previously relied on high-traffic real estate to get found by customers saw their sales collapse as a result of the physical restrictions imposed by the lockdown.

For the first, it became clear that they needed a digital presence. Sustaining sales during the lockdown meant being able to lead a horse to water and make them drink online. Physical visibility was replaced by digital visibility, and we saw late bloomers who previously sat the digital revolution out make a mad dash to pivot to digital.

If you buy digital visibility through Expedia at up to 30% of every sale, Groupon at up to 50% of every sale, or Viator at up to 20% of the sale, that’s a big chunk of your sales margin. But, if you direct market consumers and conduct ecommerce transactions on your own website, you make more money on every sale.

I was the only digital marketing keynote speaker at AEI, but it was among the best attended and top rated session at the conference. Here's the highlights from my presentation.

The other topic that resonated well with conference attendees – and their were several sessions on this topic – was how to afford rising minimum wages, relaunching your business post pandemic, and how to deal with the staffing shortages in the service industry these days.

Is Las Vegas Open for Business as Usual?

I love going to conferences in Las Vegas because I love great hospitality, great restaurants and great spas. Las Vegas has become one of the world’s greatest destinations for business travelers and conference attendees, because you can network with like minded people in your industry from different geographic areas and pamper yourself at the same time.

But my experience was that Vegas is far from open for business as usual. It is going to take time for the convention center and conference venues to reopen for business as usual. At this point, I’d say they are severely understaffed and under prepared to host trade shows, corporate events, and professional conferences.

The conference organizer put me up at the hotel at the Las Vegas Convention Center which is called the Westgate Resort. The property was at around 80% occupancy and had only one of their eight restaurants open for business in the evening. Lines were more than 45 minutes just to order. 

As a backup, I checked Grubhub for nearby restaurants and they were showing a 75 minute minimum wait. So my takeaway is this. Las Vegas is struggling with a severe staffing shortage. Who knows why? But there are currently aren’t enough workers to keep up with the demand in Las Vegas, and my guess is that this is probably true nationwide, as everyone braces for consumers, tourists and business travelers to hit the road again.

At the Westgate Resort, the spa was still closed. I also noticed that the air conditioning in the hotel, conference center and McCarran Airport were all set to 74 degrees. I remember them keeping the indoor temperatures much cooler per pandemic. If you’re wearing a face mask, which is still mandatory in the airport, expect to break a sweat as you move through the concourse and get your luggage. Honestly, the only places that were comfortable temperature wise were the casino and the sports book.

Just as it took us all time to adapt to the lockdown, I expect it will take time for us to adapt to the new normal as well. Nevertheless, it was great to be back out there delivering a digital marketing keynote at one of my favorite conferences and trade shows.

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