Barcelona – Madrid
The fear of the spread of the coronavirus and the stampede of large companies led yesterday to the GSMA, the employer of the mobile industry and organizer of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) of Barcelona, to suspend the largest global fair in the sector, which was to be held in Barcelona between February 24 and 27. Before the wave of defections that already anticipated that, if it were to be celebrated, this year’s would have been a paperback edition, the organization adopted the most drastic decision: there will be no MWC Barcelona in 2020.
«With due respect for the safe and healthy environment of Barcelona and the host country, the GSMA has canceled the MWC 2020 of Barcelona because the global concern regarding the outbreak of coronavirus, uncertainty about travel and other circumstances make it impossible for the GSMA celebrate the event, ”said GSMA CEO John Hoffman yesterday, who clarified that work will continue on the celebration of Mobile 2021 and upcoming editions in the capital of Barcelona.
The decision fell like a jug of cold water in Barcelona, especially among the catering and services sector, which relied on at least save a portion of the almost 500 million income and 14,100 jobs temporary that a MWC would leave under normal conditions. The suspension also impacted among the administrations, which had pressed until the last minute to hold the congress and from where it is still maintained that there are no public health reasons that justify the suspension.
The day was loaded with nerves and rumors that were later shown “fake.” On the same day that important firms such as Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Orange, BT and Nokia joined the list of casualties, the GSMA was forced to advance two days the board of directors that had to hold tomorrow and where it was planned to communicate a decision.
Afternoon of meetings
The pressure of the companies, who did not want to go to a fair in which an eventual case of contagion splashed their reputation and created legal problems, and the perception that if they did not react soon the MWC could collapse by itself, led to GSMA a advance the council and raise an urgent meeting by videoconference between several of its partners that lasted several hours and gave way to others throughout yesterday afternoon. The last one, more internally, was the final one, and after which it was announced that there will be no Mobile 2020. All the options were considered, but the fear that the exodus of companies could not be contained led to decide in the end the suspension .
At the first meeting, the GSMA verified that the position of the telecos was not going to be consortium. Already on Tuesday the Americans AT&T and Sprint joined the Japanese NTT Docomo and announced their decision not to attend. Yesterday, before that emergency meeting, British Telecom (BT), Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, founding members of the employers, they also reported their discharge and at noon they gave order to the assembly companies to stop the installation of their exhibitors in the Fira. Orange, whose CEO presides over the GSMA, and Telefónica, host at the event, failed to communicate any decision before the conclave.
A postponement was logistically very complicated, among other reasons for a calendar in Fira already very loaded this spring. On the other hand, a suspension without being able to allege force majeure may force you to pay large compensation if GSMA has not been able to agree in recent days on a friendly cancellation agreement with the participants. As this newspaper advanced, the GSMA type contracts with the exhibitors give the organization ample room to modify dates or locations, but not in case of a cancellation that in this case, and for now, is not supported by a sanitary alarm.
In fact, much of the discussion between the GSMA, the Fira and the exhibiting companies revolved around who will assume the bill to cancel the event. The big firms get to pay high figures for their space in the Fira: in 2019, Huawei occupied the largest stand, of more than 6,300 square meters and for which it paid almost eight million euros. But also enter into that equation, for example, tickets already sold to visitors.
So the final cancellation now gives way to a discussion about eventual compensation, although obviously it is something that the parties will have already discussed in depth.
According to industry sources, the GSMA is responsible for the money invested by the exhibiting companies in the rental of the exhibition space in the Fira, as they are paid to the association, and the hotel nights hired for their managers and guests, as it is something which also manages the employer. On the other hand, the 2,400 companies that were going to attend will lose the money of the assembly of the exhibitors and the displacement – plane tickets, train and buses – that they had hired previously.
The first vice president of the Government, Carmen Calvo, said yesterday to understand the decision of the GSMA, but clarified that not justified “for health reasons”. The Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, displaced to Barcelona with the intention of supporting the congress, insisted that it was not necessary to take additional measures. For his part, the Secretary of Public Health of the Generalitat, Joan Guix, spoke of “media epidemic and fear.” Industry sources point to the contrast between the decision to suspend in Barcelona and the simultaneous celebration, and in the midst of relative normality, of the ISE technology macrosalon in Amsterdam, where brands such as Sony announced that they would not go to Barcelona.