Zoe Portanova, left, and friend Breana at the booth for IDesia, a heart health… (Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Las Vegas — A sure sign of a recovering economy at the Consumer Electronics Show: Booth models are back.
In addition to more exhibitors and bigger crowds at this week's event at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the electronics extravaganza has seen a marked increase in the number of vendors employing eye-catching young women to greet customers at their displays. Known as "booth babes," these women have one of the toughest jobs at the show, remaining upbeat and professional while standing on their feet for hours hobnobbing with geeks and groupies.
"It's nice to be getting back into the business and feeling the good energy," said Zoe Portanova, 21, who was dressed in a body-tight nurse costume and standing in front of the booth for IDesia, a heart health technology company. "There are a lot more booths and people flowing in. People are becoming more comfortable with the economy."
A few years ago, demand for convention models plunged, she said. She would land about two major events a year; now she books at least six. During the lean years, she had to take more "out-of-industry" jobs such as bartending and retail sales, which cut into daytime casting calls.
"There was not a lot going on," said Portanova, who was working the booth with her friend Breana, who declined to give her last name. "But now, they keep hiring up until the day of the show."
Attendance this year is up, convention officials said, and may surpass last year's crowd of 126,000 by as much as 10%. The number of exhibitors is also up, 2,700 compared with 2,500 last year.
Tracy Wilson, 26, working the booth for network technology company D-Link, said opportunities through Facebook, Craigslist and agencies have increased.
"Last year, it was really slim trying to get jobs," she said as she greeted guests with fellow model Valentina Smirnova, 29. "It's definitely picked up, and there are more opportunities. I've got bookings all over now."
And compared with past gigs, this one's not bad, models said.
Laura Croft, 27, said former bosses skimped on bathroom breaks and mealtimes for the models. Once, a manager brought just two meals for eight women. Convention models are now making about $20 an hour plus hotel and travel expenses.
This week, Croft was working the PhoneGuard booth with friend Jamie Westenhiser, 29, whom she met while working swimwear conventions.
Portanova once had to wear 6-inch heels to work in a spa, so the 4.5-inch heels she's been sporting at CES are "a walk in the park," she said. Also, she has "amazing foot-numbing cream."
And another bonus: CES attendees tend to be less grabby.
"This is nothing compared to Comic-Con, where because they're dressed up in costumes they feel like they have a lot more freedom," Portanova said. "This is more businesslike."
Still, Wilson said: "Gotta love the nerds."