IFA 2021 cancelled as pandemic claims another tech event

European tech show IFA has been cancelled this year, with IFA 2021 no longer taking place as a physical event in Berlin, Germany. The show – similar to CES, the consumer electronics show held in Las Vegas each January, only also open to the public and with a broader range of categories covered – shifted to a predominantly online format for 2020, during the height of the pandemic.

However the goal, according to IFA organizer Messe Berlin, had always been to return to an in-person event in 2021. Attendance of the show typically numbers in the tens of thousands, with both global media and members of the German public visiting booths and stands – some of which are huge – spread across several dozen show halls in a sprawling Berlin complex.

That, obviously, isn't much conducive to social distancing during a highly-contagious pandemic. What Messe Berlin had been hoping for was a download trend of COVID-19, along with an uptick in vaccinations, so that physical events could be held without running into health concerns. That, the organizers conceded today, simply isn't arriving as rapidly as is needed.

"Ultimately, several key global health metrics did not move as fast in the right direction as had been hoped for," Messe Berlin said today, "from the rapid emergence of new COVID-19 variants, for example in South Asia, to continued uncertainties about the speed of the rollout of vaccination programs around the world. This in turn is adding uncertainty for the companies that were committed or interested in coming to Berlin, as well as media and visitors – all of whom have to plan well ahead with regards to budgets, investments and travel – not just for IFA, but all similar events around the world."

CES 2021, back in January, shifted to an online-only event for much the same reasons. Currently, organizers the CEA say they plan to return an in-person event for CES 2022 in January of next year.

"There simply are now too many uncertainties," Kai Hillebrandt, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of gfu Consumer & Home Electronics GmbH which works with Messe Berlin to organize IFA. "Therefore, right now it has become near impossible for anyone to responsibly plan their participation in any trade show."

IFA's facilities won't go empty, mind. Parts of the exhibition complex are being used as a vaccination center and an emergency hospital facility. According to the company, "both are now likely to be required for longer than originally anticipated."

It's a blow to the German company, and indeed the Berlin economy, which sees a dramatic uptick in visitors from media and companies during the event each September. IFA will hold some sort of online counterpart event instead, though it's unclear how successful those styles of broad consumer tech showcases are compared to the tangible benefits of seeing products first-hand.