Covid surge dims enthusiasm for ICSC Vegas conference
Trade organization’s annual event was perennial blowout before pandemic
It’s been nearly two years since the real estate community has been able to attend its big Las Vegas retail industry bash, ReCon, hosted by the former International Council of Shopping Centers.
The December conference is usually a highlight of the year, along with being great for business. But The Real Deal found mixed reactions about attending from those who would normally be enthusiastic regulars at the event.
ICSC — whose new tagline, “Innovating Commerce Serving Communities,” won’t win any rebranding awards — will host its three-day conference Dec. 5 to 7 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The trade group has dubbed it “Here, We Go. 2021.”
Some 9,000 attendees have registered to attend, according to ICSC. In previous years ReCon has drawn about 30,000, but the trade group professes optimism. “As with prior ICSC events, registration will continue to grow as we get closer to the event,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Events have been a major source of revenue for the organization, which has faced turmoil in recent years with declining membership, internal strife, changing consumer habits hurting its patrons, and Covid cancelations.
The Vegas event, canceled for 2020 a month into the pandemic, had long been an extravaganza of networking and deal-making, and some are expecting this year’s will be no different.
“For me, my team, it’s been incredibly hard to skip two years,” said James Famularo, president of retail leasing at Meridian, who has been attending the conference for more than two decades.
However, not everyone is eagerly booking their flights. David Firestein, a partner with the Shopping Center Group, said he plans to wait and see, especially given Covid-19 cases being on the rise.
“Normally in my New York office, we’d send a couple dozen [people],” Firestein said. “If [the conference] happens, that’s going to be probably less than a handful.”
Although nearly all Covid deaths are now among unvaccinated people, reports of breakthrough cases — in which vaccinated people test positive for the virus, suffer symptoms and have to quarantine — have spooked many potential travelers.
“As I hear myself talking, I’m talking about myself out of going,” Firestein said, noting that there will be other events in the future.
The pandemic is also a source of hesitation for Barry Wolfe, senior managing director/investments at Marcus & Millichap. Though he plans on attending ICSC’s Florida regional event in Orlando, the Vegas conference falls close to a family event. Wolfe does not want to risk exposing any relatives to Covid-19.
“I’m definitely not down on ICSC or conferences or anything like that,” Wolfe said. “I’m looking forward to them.”