Names like Samsung and Sony, the very latest devices, technical highlights and around 100,000 visitors from all over the world: this year it was not to be. On Wednesday, the Mobile World Congress (MWC), the largest tech fair in Europe, was canceled due to concerns about the corona virus. This has major, sometimes disastrous consequences for the parties involved.
Earlier that week, major tech companies such as Sony, Amazon, LG and Ericsson already announced that they would not travel to Barcelona where the trade fair would take place, for fear of the virus. Samsung still had doubts about participation, but soon followed Facebook and Intel.
Shortly thereafter, organizer GSMA decided to pull the plug out of the event this year. GSMA CEO John Hoffman writes in a statement that the virus outbreak has made it "impossible" for the event to continue.
Canceling the scholarship is a "nightmare"
The smaller players and start-ups in particular are being hit hard by the cancellation. Di Mauro, founder of startup Connectlab, tells the BBC that the situation is a real "nightmare". His company had spent around 50,000 euros on the stock exchange, which is a lot of money for the start-up. Yet missing out on customer contact is at least as bad: "It's much more than a trade show, it's a meeting place for everyone in the industry," he tells the English news station.
For larger brands such as Nokia and LG, it is expected to take longer before they can bring their new products to the market. Sony has scheduled an online press conference on February 24, instead of a physical announcement. Furthermore, a lot of data is unknown.
The damage is also picking up locally. For example, the city of Barcelona misses an estimated 500 million euros, reports Reuters. Visitors to the fair give a swing to the local economy with, among other things, hotel stays, network dinners and taxi rides. Some hotels lose 90 percent of their bookings in one fell swoop; the hotel and catering industry estimates the loss at 40 million euros.
Disagreement about compensation
The organization requests the participating companies to take the cancellation costs for their own account, because there is a case of force majeure. But the Spanish authorities disagree; there would have been no circumstances requiring cancellation. Also the WHO health organization cannot agree with the decision.
The organization of MWC would have urged the authorities to declare a state of emergency so that insurance could be claimed. Because this is unsuccessful, all contracts with participating companies must be viewed separately.
Possible consequences for the next edition of MWC
In addition to the consequences it entails for the participants and the city of Barcelona, organizer GSMA will have to guard against a domino effect according to analyst Ben Woods of CCS Insights. "Many smaller companies will reconsider whether they will be there next year, after they have incurred so many costs in vain."
Large companies are also likely to review their interest in MWC. After all, larger tech players such as Samsung often organize their own events to bring their new products to the market. "GSMA has to work hard to make a clear course forwards," Woods concludes.