Tech show organisers welcome return of in-person convention

The organiser of the first major technology convention to go ahead in person since the Covid-19 outbreak has said he hopes the event’s success will be a springboard for more physical gatherings.

Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been taking place in Barcelona this week, with a reduced capacity of around 35,000 people paired with strict social distancing, regular health checks and other new safety measures.

Mats Granryd, director general of the show’s organiser – the GSMA – said the return of in-person gatherings at the event had gone “very, very well” and attendees had been excited to meet face-to-face again.

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“I think people are really happy to be back together, to be back in Barcelona, back to doing proper business,” he told the PA news agency.

“I walked around the shop floor and it’s a healthy buzz, obviously different from previous years, but it’s still a buzz. So I’m actually very positively surprised.”

In order to go ahead, MWC struck a deal with the Spanish government which allowed overseas travellers into the country for the show, with those signed up to attend the event added to the list of authorised entrants into Spain.

The annual convention traditionally attracts more than 100,000 visitors but has been scaled back to around a third of that total for this year’s gathering.

Attendees have also been required to supply a negative Covid test prior to travel, undergo regular tests while in the city and complete a health declaration each day before entering the convention centre, where strict one-way systems, mandatory mask-wearing and increased ventilation and airflow systems have also been in place.

Mr Granryd admitted it had been a “massively different experience” to put on the show this year and a “superhuman exercise” to do so “with all the uncertainty”, but said the GSMA had “tried our hardest” to convince people that such an event could be put on again, safely and securely.

He said organisers had “gained confidence” from the experiences of the week, where in-person attendance was combined with virtual participation, and said he believed the next MWC – scheduled for February 2022 – could go ahead with further increased in-person attendance.

“It (the new system) works – I wouldn’t be surprised that when it comes to February 2022, we see a continued hybrid event,” he said.

“However, I am convinced that the physical aspect will be the majority of the event, but I think the virtual element will be there as a complement and so I think we will continue to both invest in and develop that from the experiences here this week.”

He added that he was hopeful the MWC hybrid system could be used as a blueprint for other industry events going forward, dozens of which have been cancelled over the last year or taken place entirely online.

“Let’s see. I hope so. I think the world needs to open up and I think what we have shown this week here is leadership and that actually you can hold large events and you can hold them in a safe, productive manner,” he said.

“Yes it is a lot of work, but if you’re not afraid of working, you can do this in a safe and productive way.

“So for us at GSMA, and for us representing the mobile industry, this is a very proud moment for us to be the first to open up.”