A MWC to recover

The congress expects half the number of attendees and economic impact than in 2019, but encourages business in the city

3 min
Today's picture of the Hospitalet Fair

BarcelonaAfter a cancellation in 2020 and a lacklustre edition last summer, the Mobile World Congress returns this Monday to Barcelona on its usual dates. It does so still far from the pre-pandemic attendance figures, but with the purpose of being (at least symbolically) a turning point in the recovery. The congress opens the doors of the Fira de Barcelona exhibition centre in Gran Via de L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, where until Thursday it will host around 1,500 exhibiting companies that aspire to resume their presence at trade fairs. The organisers, the telecommunications employers' association GSMA, expect the seven pavilions reserved for the event (there used to be eight) to attract between 40,000 and 60,000 attendees, 55% of 2019 numbers.

This edition remains halfway to normality, both in terms of economic impact (€240m versus €473m before covid) and in the temporary workplaces that will be generated (6,700 compared to 13,900 in 2019). That is why it is being received with cautious optimism. "The forecasts we make are modest," admits Roger Pallarols, president of the Gremi de Restauració de Barcelona. The sixth wave of the coronavirus, he explains, made companies choose more "prudent" options for their activity programmes. Many of those that have recovered parallel corporate events have preferred to move them to the same hotels where workers will stay and not attend restaurants or nightlife venues. "Before in just four nights [the congress] could leave around €45m in turnover, this year if it reaches half of that it would already be very good news," adds Pallarols. In his opinion, MWC cannot be considered the starting point for the recovery, but it is "a boost to the spirit after two years of economic hole". "We don't expect everything to start recovering until at least Easter," he says.

Fecasarm, the nightlife employers' association, largely agrees with this diagnosis. "We have detected many fewer bookings than during other editions. The legal insecurity due to the restrictions has caused attendees and companies to book both dinners and events in hotels," its president, Joaquim Boadas, says. There are exceptions: a large Barcelona nightclub has managed to get a reservation for 1,000 people during the congress. The association of digital entrepreneurs Tech Barcelona also hired the Sutton room, high above the city, to close the event with a party. "We estimate an impact of around €60 million on catering and nightlife around MWC. It would be about half of 2019 and less than in 2018, when bad weather made it hard for attendees to get to the venues," Boadas estimates.

65% occupancy in hotels

Hotels in the Catalan capital are more optimistic than restaurateurs and nightclubs, and are confident that MWC will be their springboard to recovery. As confirmed to Efe by the Gremi d'Hotels de Barcelona, this year the organisation has booked 10,000 rooms, compared to the 1,000 they occupied last year, when the public was basically local and did not spend much on these establishments. Its president, Jordi Clos, predicts that occupancy in the sector will reach 65%, up from 35% in the months of January and February. Even so, only hotels closest to the Gran Via venue will be fully booked. "As we move further away, occupancy rates will be lower," he says. Some businesses that have been closed for two years will reopen these days (80% have already raised their shutters) and Clos predicts that practically all of them will be back in business in the spring.

The tech event will again have to deal with pre-pandemic concerns such as transport strikes. The UGT union section of TMB buses has called for a partial strike (between 8.30 and 10.30 a.m., from 4.30 to 6.30 p.m. and also from 10 p.m. until midnight) coinciding with the congress. Another strike by Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya workers has also been scheduled to highlight the company's management problems.