Business 01/07/2021

Mobile World Congress does not give enough oxygen to restaurateurs and hoteliers

Congress attendees, with a greater presence of local people, opt for more discreet leisure plans than in other years

3 min
One of the pavilions of the Mobile World Congress 2021.

L'Hospitalet de Llobregat"We always had large groups. In one edition we even had Mark Zuckerberg and his wife for dinner". In the dining room of the Michelin-starred Caelis restaurant in Barcelona, the arrival of Mobile congress participants was not appreciated this week. Chef Romain Fornell has not noticed "that joy and opulence" in the bookings that the fair brought to many tables in the city's haute cuisine restaurants. The congress attendees' drop in attendance has been reflected in the impact of their nightlife plans, which are much more discreet than in previous years. In the 7 Portes restaurant, next to the port, they have counted more last-minute bookings and lower figures than in 2019. MWC has meant, however, to recover corporate clients, and they are "very happy" for their return.

It is the same message that Manel Casals, general director of the Hotels Guild, transmits. Despite the drop in bookings at a very delicate time for the sector, he responds with joy: "Obviously, there are fewer people than usual, but we are pleased that it has been done". Fewer reservations, then, and more concentrated in the hotels closer to the Fira. Casals admits that the employers' association will not monitor the figures, but insists on the message. "We don't want to give data that looks like a complaint because they are small details in comparison with the reactivation of the congresses", he says.

How have the congress participants experienced this out of the norm MWC? In the corridor that links Halls 2 and 3 of the Fira, Frank looks closely at a folding map of Barcelona. This is the third time he has come to the Catalan capital from the Netherlands for the congress, but the first time he has had to arrange the visit months in advance to adapt to the changing environment of the pandemic. "It's feasible, you just need a little more preparation for timings and testing", he explains. He admits, however, that the 2021 edition has been calmer than previous editions. "There are fewer dinners, but you have more time for meetings", he explains. His company has put less effort into the event than before the pandemic and only one other executive has accompanied him to Catalonia. "Normally five or six of us would come, but this year it didn't make sense. I hope that next year it will be more normal", he adds.

The congressmen who have crossed continents this week to get to Barcelona have not had it easy. Harpreet is one of the few who have made the trip from Hong Kong to spend a week in Catalonia. He arrived on Saturday and will stay until Sunday, but the logistics of the flight (more than 20 hours) complicated his time to present the negative antigen tests to enter Spain. "It's the first time I come, but we have made a pretty big deployment. There are ten of us in the team", he explains. Despite the health context, his company has not been spared the post-congress evening plans and Monday they invited him to dinner at the restaurant Torre de Alta Mar (in the port cable car), where the tasting menu costs 100 euros. "Work is work, we separate it from rest", agrees Serguei, who has also taken advantage of the evenings to take a tour of Parc Güell and the Barri Gòtic.

More local audience

MWC 2021 has more local audience. Between the invitations and the tickets at 21 euros that the GSMA put on sale to attract Spanish professionals (they wanted to sell 30,000, but there were "thousands"), the event has opened up to profiles like Victoria's. "I got a ticket and I was curious because I had always heard about it as a great event, but I had never had the chance to attend", she explains while taking pictures of the rather empty stands in Hall 1. She only had to pay the 15 euros it costs to take the antigen test. Shinpei is Japanese but lives in Spain and was able to take advantage of the discounted tickets. "I work in the technology sector and I am interested in everything that happens here, but normally the entrance fee is very expensive. In a normal year I would never have come", he says.

The pandemic and the difficulties for international travelers have also conditioned the deployment of executives that some Asian and American companies used to do for the congress and, in turn, has affected restaurateurs and hoteliers. A large Chinese multinational electronics company that had booked several floors of a hotel in Barcelona for its staff explains that this year only a few members of the top management have come from Asia to participate in conferences and high-level meetings. The rest of the workers who have been accredited for MWC come from the different European headquarters of the company.