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Foreign CES visitors embrace COVID measures, seek global audience

When the omicron variant of COVID-19 began dominating the U.S. last month, some in Las Vegas feared that the massive international tech show, CES, scheduled for the next month would lose attendees or be canceled.

But in southwest France, Yvenes Cortu and his coworkers at Facil’iti never questioned whether they would make the trip overseas. The web platform for accessibility aides for online content wanted to meet partners and expand their U.S. customer base. CES — no matter its size — was the best way to do that.

“I really thought that the alleys would be empty but there’s people around,” Cortu, the company’s managing director, said. “Those who came are really interested. I mean, if they made it through all the rules and testing to come in, that means they were really looking for something. They are not tourists.”

Comfortable with precautionary measures

Cortu shares the sentiment of other international participants who took elaborate steps to participate in this year’s conference, possibly the largest international show in Vegas since the pandemic’s onset. COVID-19 vaccinations were not only required by conference, but also by the U.S. government to enter the country. That, coupled with COVID tests before flying and mask mandates on airlines and in Las Vegas, left many who chose to come feeling prepared for face-to-face business interactions.

Facundo Mendez Collado, an exhibitor with German AV manufacturer Blaupunkt, traveled from Argentina for the conference. He said he felt it was necessary to return after nearly two years without personal business interactions, which limited growth and opportunity.

“It’s been two years that have been restrictions everywhere,” Collado said. “We’re kind of getting used to that, getting used to the mask as well. Fortunately, we have the vaccines. Now it’s just another thing to do. We went through TSA, now you have to show proof of vaccination. It’s just one more paper.”

CES, produced by the Consumer Technology Association, estimates that 160 countries are represented in the convention of more than 2,200 in-person exhibitors, including many visiting for the global startup event called Eureka Park. Attendance by country of origin is not available until after the show closes, a CES official said.

Chances for new exposure

Still, the in-person show is noticeably smaller than previous years because of the pandemic. Major brands like Meta, Google, Amazon, T-Mobile, General Motors and Lenovo Group dropped their in-person attendance plans in December when omicron began to dominate in the U.S. The show slimmed its schedule down to three days and closes on Friday, after previously planning to run Wednesday through Saturday.

But some overseas exhibitors saw the changes as positives. For Seoul Robotics’ third time at CES, the 3D computer vision software company hopes that lowered attendance brings more attention to their work, said William Muller, vice president of business development.

“For us, we saw it as an opportunity this year specifically because although it was sad to see a reduction (in attendees), it presented an opportunity for lesser-known companies to get exposure,” he said.

Seoul Robotics brought about eight people from South Korea, two from Canada and three from the U.S.’s east coast, Muller said. Each opted in to traveling and is tested for COVID daily while here.

Others refused to give up the chance to showcase their work. Ukrainian startup Manna wanted to display its prototype of a platform for a 3D media marketplace that can be used in the metaverse, CEO Oleg Dre said. The team of six from Kiev and Tel Aviv, Israel, thought it was necessary to meet with investors at CES and represent their country in the Eureka Park startup event.

“We’ve been sponsored to come here because they really consider that this is the best event to showcase Ukrainian startup ecosystem, Ukrainian technologies and teams,” Dre said. “This is the best time for us to perform in front of the global audience and specifically, in the United States.”

Chance to explore

Trade shows usually offer travelers a chance to see Las Vegas, too. Some say this year is no different since they already traveled abroad. Dre and his team plan to use Saturday as an the extra day to tour the U.S., because of Saturday’s show cancellation. He said they plan to visit the Grand Canyon.

Mohamed Ali Beizig came to CES with his family from Tunisia to get ideas for a new IT platform. They’ll stay several days after the convention to sightsee in the area, he said.

“Because I came with my family, just after CES we are going to have a little bit of fun with the attractions like the Cirque du Soleil for my girls,” Beizig said.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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