Mobile World Congress hopes for bigger bash as Spain eases restrictions

FILE PHOTO: People walk at the venue of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo

STOCKHOLM/BARCELONA (Reuters) - The Mobile World Congress (MWC), telecoms industry's biggest annual gathering, is hoping to attract about 50,000 attendees in the Spanish city of Barcelona, making it one of the biggest physical events since the start of the pandemic.

Online conferences have become the norm for the past two years, boosting the valuations of conferencing companies such as Zoom and Hopin, but as the pandemic recedes the appetite for doing business in person is slowing recovering.

This year top executives from Nokia, Ericsson, Amazon and Cisco have confirmed their attendance at the conference after a gap of two years.

While a handful of companies such as Lenovo are attending virtually, most other big names including Samsung and Huawei will be showcasing new products at the venue.

"I am desperate to connect with people in real life again," said Allison Kirkby, CEO of Telia. "Innovation only happens when people come together."

MWC was one of the first events to be cancelled in 2020 as COVID-19 started to sweep across the world. Normally held in February, in 2021 it was switched to June and a cut-size version.

While the expected attendance for this year is less than half the 109,000 registered for 2019, it compares with roughly 20,000 attendees last year. Technology show CES managed 40,000 participants in December.

"We have 1,500 exhibitors confirmed, 1,000 speakers, and out of the seven halls that we will engage, we have an 85% occupancy ratio," Mats Granryd, director general of conference organiser GSMA said.

The event will run from February 28 to March 3.

While daily coronavirus cases in Spain are still over 40,000, the country has been rolling back restrictions following a high rate of vaccination, including lifting a mandate for people to wear masks outdoors from Thursday.

Many companies are sending out invitations for product launches, dinner meetings and other events spread across Barcelona.

A vaccine certificate is enough this year to attend MWC, while last year an attendee had to get tested at the gates of the venue to gain entry. There will be no-one at the venue this year reminding attendees to stick to social distancing.

The event usually provides a significant boost to Barcelona's economy, with GSMA estimating it brought $500 million to the city in 2019.

"We are very optimistic and confident that this conference will really reactivate Barcelona's international and fairs activity," the city's deputy mayor Jaume Collboni told Reuters.

"We are telling the world that we are back."

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm and Joan Faus in Barcelona;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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