By Luis Felipe Castilleja and Joan Faus
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona recalls the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February 2020 as the first sign that COVID-19 was a real and immediate cause for concern – a month before most countries were stranded.
Sixteen months later, the Spanish city sees the return of the annual telecom industry gathering – albeit in a very stripped-down version – as a cause for hope, as vaccination rates accelerate and Europe seems to be starting to come out of the worst of the pandemic behind.
Holding the Congress is “absolutely a step forward,” John Hoffman, CEO of MWC’s organizing body, GSMA, told Reuters on Friday. “It’s the reopening of business.”
The Mobile, as it is also called, will be the first major technological conference organized in Europe since the start of the pandemic and will take place from June 28 to July 1.
Hoffman expects the number of participants to be between 30,000 and 40,000 – a far cry from the more than 100,000 who flocked to the last edition in 2019, which the GSMA says gave Barcelona a boost. inch of $ 500 million.
This year, the GSMA has implemented a series of health measures.
A recent negative COVID-19 test, face masks and a digital badge will be required to access the site, while a contact tracing app will track any infections.
Barcelona deputy mayor Jaume Collboni said the city was not concerned about potential MWC-related coronavirus outbreaks as other events, although smaller, have taken place recently and infections have plummeted in Spain.
For the tourism-dependent city – hard hit by the slump in international visitors and fears that the MWC may move elsewhere – the return is a welcome relief.
“Simply owning (the MWC) is a success,” Collboni said. “It is very important to send a double message: the city is reactivating and will continue to fight to be a leader in the technological sector”.
Barcelona hotel owner Josep Maria Malagarriga was optimistic about the recovery of the sector despite the fact that the official MWC agency has only booked 11 hotels this year, when it is expected to contract more than 400.
The occupancy rate on Monday at his Continental Palacete hotel is 50% and with prices still significantly lower than usual, he said.
The industry hopes this year’s event, with a schedule split between physical, virtual and hybrid activities, will provide a template for future business meetings.
GSMA CEO Hoffman added that he was convinced that next February’s edition – which will be held during the regular MWC slot – would be more important because “people need to be together.”
(Reporting by Joan Faus and Luis Felipe Castilleja; editing by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Keith Weir)