Virus worries force cancellation of major tech show in Spain

Mobile World Congress was estimated to generate about US$56 million

Sony, Amazon, Ericsson, Nokia and LG are among those who pulled out of the event in Barcelona. Credit: Mobile World Congress

BARCELONA - Organisers of Mobile World Congress (MWC), the world's biggest mobile technology fair, are cancelling the event over worries about China's ongoing viral outbreak.

Originally scheduled from Feb 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain, the cost of cancelling the annual MWC is not yet known. Mats Granryd, director general of GSMA - the wireless-trade body that hosts the convention - said they did not know what the cost of the move will be, but "it's not about the money".

The decision to scrap the event happened after dozens of tech companies and wireless carriers dropped out, including major companies like Sony, Amazon, Ericsson, Nokia and LG. The companies cited concerns for the safety of staff and visitors.

Earlier Wednesday, Nokia said it had decided to withdraw "after a full assessment of the risks related to a fast-moving situation".

The departures of Nokia and Ericsson had left China's Huawei, a major sponsor of the fair, as the only remaining major network gear maker still planning to attend. But even Huawei was scaling back by assigning European staff to the show instead. Its chairman had planned to hold a media briefing by video because he wouldn't get to Spain with enough time to undergo a two-week self-quarantine period.

GSMA CEO, John Hoffman said they had considered a scaled-down event but "all of our buyers have indicated they would not attend". He added that the company nevertheless looked forward to hosting the event again in Barcelona in 2021.

Organisers and government officials had sought to hold out against growing pressure to cancel the annual tech extravaganza, which had been expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors from about 200 countries, including 5,000 to 6,000 from China. The show normally represents a huge source of revenue for hotels, restaurants and taxi companies. Authorities have estimated the show was to generate about US$56 million and more than 14,000 part-time jobs for the local economy.

Spain's vice president, Carmen Calvo, said there was "no public health reason" to call off the show. She said Spain had a good health-response system and was following all of the recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr Mike Ryan, WHO's emergencies chief, said before the cancellation that the show could have gone on. He said that while no mass gathering is ever risk-free, with the potential for food poisoning, injuries or building collapse, most events "can continue if the proper measures can be applied".

Mr Randy Nelson, head of insights at mobile data firm Sensor Tower, said his company had planned on having a booth at the MWC. He said his firm expected to recoup the exhibiting fees since it hadn't pulled out, but had not heard from organisers yet.

While the cancellation was a disappointment, Mr Nelson said, the work that went into planning for the show can still be used for future events, including the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March.

Source: Meetings and Conventions USA

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