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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 05:36 GMT
Top tech event dwindles
Sony MD Discam
Comdex attendees come to see new gadgets such as Sony's Discam in 1999
David Schepp

This weekend, thousands of technology enthusiasts will descend upon the Las Vegas Convention Center to attend one of the world's largest annual computer and software trade shows, Comdex.

Comdex Fall 2001
150,000 attendees expected
2,300 companies participating
$200m local economic impact
But the numbers attending the seven-day event are expected to be affected heavily by the twin traumas of a faltering US economy and the recent terror attacks in New York and Washington.

Security hassles and fears over air travel have colluded to drive down the number of participants by 25%, from the 200,000 people who went to last year's Comdex.

The technology rout of the past year has also taken a toll on attendance. Some firms have been so stricken they cannot afford to send representatives, while other businesses have shut up shop or merged.

Nevertheless, more than 2,300 information technology (IT) firms are expected to push their wares at the annual geekfest.

Modest beginnings

Comdex is an annual tech fest that not only allows companies to display their latest wares but to strike the biggest deals.

Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates regularly attends Comdex
The first Comdex (Computer Dealer Expo) meeting was held over three days in December 1979 and featured just 160 companies. Four thousand people attended the first event.

Among the products featured at that conference was the first-ever dot matrix printer for personal computers. That same year, office-networking Ethernet technology was introduced along with a new service called CompuServe, which allowed its users to send e-mail, among other things.

The annual meeting has since established itself as an influential summit of industry leaders. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates first addressed the influential conference in 1983 and has done so each year since.

Other industry big wigs in recent years to address Comdex include Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison.

Legacy of the attacks

The 11 September terror attacks that assailed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have had a sizable impact on the tourism industry in the US.

Las Vegas, a gambling and entertainment mecca, in the first few weeks following the attacks endured a measurable decline in hotel reservations and gamblers to its casinos.

Hotel room rates fell by as much as half, including those along the famous Las Vegas Strip, said Ray Vastola, president of Quikbook, a hotel-room reservation service.

Hotel room cancellations have since tapered off, thanks in part to innovative schemes by casinos delivered via e-mail to regular clients, offering special rates on hotel rooms.

"[Hotels] are giving unbelievable rates... and that's helping," Mr Vastola said, adding that rooms cost anywhere from 25% to 50% less than before 11 September.

With the two-month anniversary of the attacks looming, tourism in Las Vegas seems to have made a rebound, with no major conventions scheduled for November and beyond having been cancelled - but there is still a long way to go.

Coming of age

It is perhaps no coincidence that in the past 20 years, during which it hosted every Comdex event, Las Vegas has moved beyond its dusty, desert roots to become one of the country's premier cities, while at the same time the personal computer has evolved from a crude device to an essential communications tool for home and office.

Equally, Las Vegas's economic boom of the late '90s coincided with the run-up in technology shares on the Nasdaq.

Both offered unheard of opportunities to novice gamblers, be they adherents of games of chance or the stock market.

But now both landscapes have changed. And just as the IT industry has had to adjust to a new economic reality, so too must Las Vegas.

Given the current crises, attendees to this year's Comdex conference will not only be keen to see the latest in gee-whiz gadgetry but eager to hear what industry sages have to say about IT's - and the country's - future.

See also:

25 Oct 01 | Business
PC makers hope for XP boost
16 Oct 01 | Business
Bust dot.coms anger investors
27 Sep 01 | Business
Nasdaq suspends stock delistings
17 Nov 00 | Business
It's chic to be geek
13 Nov 00 | Business
High-tech paradise 2000
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