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SURVIVING THE SEMA SHOW: The Things I Wished I Knew Before I First Attended

When you don’t know, you don’t know. That’s how I went into my first SEMA experience in 2021. I had heard so much about this show, the custom car builds, the celebrity appearances and the launches for new products and vehicles from the aftermarket & the OEMs. That was all I knew going in. What I didn’t know was how to cope with the multi-day grind of attending a trade show in Las Vegas.

Here are some things I’ve discovered over my past two visits to this event that can help anyone feel like a seasoned attendee even on their first trip to the Specialty Equipment Marketers Association Show.

Screenshot of the SEMA Show App Menu

First, have a plan! The SEMA Show publishes exhibitor information on their mobile app well in advance of when the show starts. This is essential for scoping out what you want to see and how to get around. The app has detailed info on booth locations, a calendar to assemble your itinerary, maps and directions and even ways to connect with other attendees and exhibitors.

When it comes to exhibits, the show floor is laid out by categories. For example, let's say you're interested in restyling accessories or detail products & tools.

You’ll find all those vendors in the West Hall, along with Off-Roading, Truck and overlanding displays. Tires and wheels, on the other hand, are on the complete opposite side of the convention center, in the South Hall. You will spend a lot of time and energy trying to get around, so it’s best to know what you want to see before you go.

If you want to see it all, break down each section by day. If you know there’s a celeb you want to get a meet & greet with or a product being introduced or a vehicle reveal on a certain date, choose that building to spend your day in. It’s a pain to try to get around the complex, especially when you have so many people to wade thru. SEMA is four days. Use them all!

Where to stay. I chose my hotel for my first SEMA Show based on economics. The further away from the convention center, the lower the room rates. I ended up at Park MGM which is a lovely, newer hotel. However, it is about a mile walk from the nearest Monorail Station, transportation that I only discovered after waiting for Ubers and spending way too much for cabs on my first few days.

In 2022, I spent a little more on my room rate to get something right off the monorail route. I stayed at the Linq. It shares a station with Harrah’s and is only one stop away from the show. I saved a bunch of time and had a lot of nice restaurants to choose from between Linq & Harrah’s.

Take the monorail! Like I said, I probably spent over $100 on cabs & Ubers during my first few days

in Vegas back in 2021. For a fraction of that, I got a 6-day monorail pass that I downloaded to my phone and was able to get where I needed to go rather quickly. Monorail trains come every 9 minutes or so and the route runs from the MGM Grand south to the Sahara station on the north end. Though, this year I encountered a lot of delays while trying to board the monorail. At peak times, officials will slow the flow of passenger traffic to allow for less crowding on the platforms. So be advised when leaving the show right at the closing. I planned to end my days at about 3:00-3:30 PM. An hour later and you’re waiting in line just to get to the platform.

Get a lanyard! There are many exhibitors at SEMA that offer promotional items like pens, drink koozies, magnets, tote bags and stress balls, but by far, the most useful, and practically necessary, hand out is a lanyard. I found this out the hard way in 2021. When you receive your SEMA badge no matter what kind of attendee you are (Media, Buyer, Exhibitor, Guest) they’re all adorned with a white, elastic string you wear around your neck. Well, that elastic and the two tiny metal ends are not very durable and tend to fail, leaving your badge on the floor and you unable to get back into the show the next day without paying a badge replacement fee of upwards of $100.

That’s what happened to me at my first SEMA Show. I walked into the South Hall and my badge

fell off just after I got thru the door. I didn’t notice it was missing for a while, apparently because when I attempted to retrace my steps, it was nowhere to be found. I saw as much as I could in that room and avoided being kicked out. I returned to my hotel, saddened that I had to end my SEMA experience a day early. However, when I shared the story on Instagram, a kind soul saw it and alerted me that he turned in my badge to a vendor near where he found it. I still couldn't get it, but I had a friend with me who was able to go in and retrieve it. Thus, I was able to finish out SEMA on my own terms! I wasn’t about to spend $100 just for a 1-day pass.

Stay Hydrated. Now this is my tip for any trip to Las Vegas. I always pack a thermal tumbler and get ice at the hotel. I also buy a package of bottled water at a drugstore along with a few snacks. Between the arid environment and the Vegas nightlife, you’ll be glad you had these back in your room.

A new wrinkle that popped up this year is the addition of SEMA Fest to the event schedule. Unlike the trade-only SEMA Show, this event is open to the public and will take place on Friday and Saturday at the close of the SEMA show at the Las Vegas Festival grounds. The issue I encountered when booking my hotel was that Thursday-Friday-Saturday dates were already booked at certain hotels. I had to book a hotel that was not my first choice in order to get an uninterrupted stay at the same property. So, if you’re all about the business of SEMA and not the fun of the Concerts, Freestyle Motocross, Drifting and Celebrity appearances of SEMA FEST, do your research and book early to ensure continuity of your stay.

I hope you find these tips helpful in planning your SEMA adventure. If you’re attending the show or SEMA Fest, post your pics and tag @carshowlifebackinhoopup on Facebook & Instagram and use #carshowlife. I’d love to see what you experience at this year’s event. And, don't forget to subscribe to Car Show Life on YouTube for all my SEMA show coverage. Here's our 2022 playlist:

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