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Mobile World Congress’s cancellation is a setback for tech but devastating for Barcelona

Mobile World Congress’s cancellation is a setback for tech but devastating for Barcelona
[Photo: Marc González/Europa Press via Getty Images]

GSMA, the organizers behind the annual Mobile World Congress tech show in Barcelona, shocked the industry yesterday when they announced the show, scheduled to begin in just two weeks’ time, was being canceled. The reason: fears over the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus (now officially known as COVID-19).

The cancellation of MWC 2020, arguably tech’s most important trade show, followed after major tech giants began pulling out of the show, including Sony, LG, Facebook, AT&T, Nokia, and Cisco. Yet there are thousands of other smaller tech companies that depend on the show to show off their new wares, get press coverage, and hopefully sign some sales deals.

But while the smaller tech companies will suffer the worst in the industry from the cancellation of MWC, in the end, the cancellation is nothing more than a setback for them. The same can’t be said for host city Barcelona, whose cancellation of Mobile World Congress is nothing short of devastating.

The city is the second-largest in Spain and has a population of around five million. Every February, the city has relied on Mobile World Congress to deliver an economic boost that goes far beyond the facility the trade show is housed in. It’s a show that attracts upwards of 100,000 people who spend money on eating out, going on tours, hotel rooms, and many other things that stimulate the local economy at every level.

According to Bloomberg, here’s what Barcelona will lose out on with the cancellation of this year’s MWC:

  • Over 100,000 visitors who would normally spend money on shelter, eating out, and other economic activities.
  • In total, those visitors spent $513 million during MWC 2019 alone—that’s half a billion dollars Barcelona’s economy is going to lose out on this year.
  • Hotels will be one of the worst hit, given the cancellations that are likely pouring in at this moment. Traditionally during MWC, Barcelona’s 430+ hotels are fully booked.
  • Furthermore, that spend by visitors was responsible for creating almost 14,000 temporary jobs in 2019–jobs which will no longer be needed now.
  • Ride-sharing and taxi jobs are also greatly impacted. Bloomberg says a local taxi firm has already suspended plans to add another 1,500 drivers during the event.

Of course, there’s always next year. Though when a city has come to expect half a billion dollars in revenue like clockwork every February, “next year” is little consolation.

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