LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The National Association of Broadcasters convention begins Saturday after canceling 2020 and 2021 shows during the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibit hall opens on Sunday

It’s been a long road back for the third-largest convention, returning to a Las Vegas Convention Center that has added a massive West Hall expansion since the last time NAB was here in 2019. That year, more than 92,000 people attended the show.

Attendance is still struggling to match 2019 levels, just as it did for CES and SEMA, the two biggest shows in Las Vegas. Organizers are expecting about 50,000 people to attend this year, and 900 exhibitors are signed up.

The question remains … will this year’s NAB show look like a “normal” convention for the people who come to Las Vegas?

All indications point to a resounding “yes.”

We dropped in on a smaller show — about 3,500 people — on Thursday at The Mirage, where the Inside Self Storage (ISS) World Expo was going on. The show floor looked like the pandemic wasn’t much more than a memory. A few people wore masks — fewer by far than the number of people wearing masks in the casino. People were shaking hands. Social distancing? Not if you wanted to be able to hear the answer to your question.

People staffing the convention booths were from all over the country, and they were upbeat about doing business in person again. One exhibitor noted that people are tired of Zoom. Others said meaningful conversations were better face-to-face.

Another exhibitor said the convention environment — bright, engaging signs and people ready to help — was a welcome change. He said this year’s ISS show was bigger than any he had been to before.

No one has forgotten COVID-19, but the attention was on getting business done at ISS, and the same is likely to be true at NAB.

NAB is requiring proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry. Masks are recommended. The health and safety page on the NAB website was last updated on April 5.

Gone are the days when the conversation centered on health and safety protocols, hand sanitizers, temperature checks and on-site testing.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has released monthly reports that show tourism returning, and the state’s gaming win has reached new highs over the past year. But conventions are a critical element of the Las Vegas economy, filling hotel rooms, restaurants and convention facilities on weekdays. Along with international travel, the return of conventions has required patience as the COVID picture has changed over time.