It wasn’t your imagination. CES was more crowded this year with 149K attendees

The 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show drew a near-record crowd of more than 149,529 attendees in January, based on an official audit released today. That number was up 18 percent from 126,641 a year ago. The show is a bellwether for the tech economy.

While the show is long gone in terms of the tech news cycle, the numbers are interesting because they verify the feeling that the tech sector is back to its old self and is possibly becoming a little frothy. The show drew 31,677 people from outside the U.S. over four days, up 30 percent from a year ago.

The show was back to its pre-recession size, with big bus lines, cab lines, and crowded bars. Still, the Las Vegas spectacle show has seen bigger crowds in the past, with the biggest attendance at 152,203 in 2006.

The certified audit by Veris Consulting confirms that CES is still the world’s largest consumer technology trade show and is North America’s largest annual trade show of any kind. Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association (which puts on the show), said the show is still a must-attend event for the tech industry. Even though tech people are talking about video conferencing and telepresence technologies, it seems that face-to-face still works.

The show floor had 1.6 million square feet of exhibit space and 2,700 exhibitors. About 20,000 new products were introduced. Attendees came from 140 countries. About 43 percent of the attendees are senior-level executives. Last year, exhibitors had 1.44 million square feet of space, and the biggest year for exhibits was January 2008, with 1.86 million square feet of space.