How many health passports will convention attendees need to revisit Las Vegas?

Two years ago, this picture wouldn’t look strange to me. Now it looks unusual.

I took this picture on the morning of April 5, 2017. I had just flown from Ontario, California to Las Vegas, Nevada to attend the ISC West show for a day, and would fly home that evening.

The idea of gathering thousands of businesspeople together in Las Vegas for a day obviously wasn’t unusual in 2017. While many think of Las Vegas as a playground, a lot of work goes on there also, and Las Vegas has superb facilities to host conventions and trade shows. So superb, in fact, that Oracle announced in late 2019 that it was moving its annual Oracle OpenWorld conference from San Francisco (up the road from Oracle’s headquarters) to Las Vegas.

But then 2020 happened.

One month after Oracle started planning for the Las Vegas debut of Oracle OpenWorld, the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show took place in Las Vegas. Unbeknownst to the 170,000 attendees at that show, they were unknowingly spreading a new illness, COVID-19. They did this by doing things that people always did at trade shows, including standing next to each other, shaking hands, and (in business-appropriate situations) embracing each other.

Of course, the CES attendees didn’t know that they were spreading coronavirus, and wouldn’t know this for a few months until after they had returned home to Santa Clara County, California and to other places all around the world. By the time that CES had been identified as a super spreader event, Las Vegas convention activities were already shutting down. The 2020 version of ISC West had already been postponed from March to July, was then re-postponed from July to October, and would eventually be cancelled entirely. Oracle OpenWorld’s September debut in Las Vegas was similarly cancelled. As other companies cancelled their Las Vegas conferences, the city went into a tailspin. (Anecdotally, one of my in-laws is a Teamster who works trade shows in Las Vegas and was directly affected by this.)

Today, one year after the economies of Las Vegas and other cities shut down, we in the United States are optimistically hoping that we have turned a corner. But it’s possible that we will not completely return to the way things were before 2020.

For example, before attending a convention in Las Vegas in the future, you might need to present a physical or digital “health passport” indicating a negative COVID-19 test and/or a COVID-19 vaccination. While governments may be reluctant to impose such requirements on private businesses, private businesses may choose to impose such requirements on themselves – in part, to reduce liability risk. After all, a convention organizer doesn’t want attendees to get sick at their conventions.

As I noted almost two months ago, there are a number of health passport options that are either available or being developed. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a bad thing for reasons that I noted in February:

In addition to Clear’s Health Pass, there are a myriad of other options, including AOKpassCommonPass, IATA Travel Pass, IBM Digital Health Pass, the Mvine-iProov solutionScan2Fly from AirAsia, VaccineGuard from Guardtime, VeriFLY from Daon, the Vaccination Credential Initiative, and probably some others that I missed….

But the wealth of health passports IS a problem if you’re a business. Imagine being at an airport gate and asking a traveler for a Clear Health Pass, and getting an angry reply from the traveler that he already has a VeriFLY pass and that the airline is infringing upon the traveler’s First and Second Amendment rights by demanding some other pass.

When I wrote this I wasn’t even thinking about convention attendance. In a worst-case scenario, Jane Conventioneer may need one health pass to board her flight, another health pass to enter her hotel, and a third health pass to get into the convention itself.

This could potentially be messier than I thought.

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