Last year’s Mobile World Congress was the first major event in the city of Barcelona to be called off due to the impending coronavirus pandemic, foreshadowing months of lockdowns and restrictions that have flipped life as we knew it upside down. The mobile industry fair attracts dozens of thousands of visitors and exhibitors every year from around the world, displaying the latest technologies, discussing future industry trends, and networking among each other to make business deals.

At first, exhibitors pulled out of participating one by one, before the fair was called off entirely by its organizing body. the GSMA. A month later, the entire population of Catalonia and Spain would be confined to their homes and allowed out only for essential reasons. A year on, not only the medical community but the whole world knows a lot more about the disease that has been named Covid-19 than compared to when last year’s congress was cancelled.

The 2021 edition of the fair is currently scheduled to take place in the summer, and John Hoffman, CEO of the GSMA, tells that “extraordinary steps” are being taken in preparation for hosting the event from June 28 to July 1 in the safest possible manner. Hoffman took the time to speak with Catalan News about the Mobile World Congress, the logistics of the next edition, and the difficulties of cancelling in 2020.

This time last year, you had to suspend Mobile World Congress 2020 (MWC20) due to the coronavirus pandemic. Looking back, how do you remember those days?
We were all disappointed that MWC Barcelona 2020 was impossible to deliver and know now that while it was a difficult decision it was the right decision. We cancelled the event because of mounting global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, including travel concerns, which made it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event.

Was it a difficult decision to cancel in 2020? 
100,000 people from around 200 countries would have arrived in Barcelona, so we are confident that we saved lives when we cancelled the event. At the time, it’s also important to remember that we didn’t know then what we know now about the virus.

How did suspending the congress affect the GSMA?
Due to the cancellation of MWC Barcelona 2020, it has been necessary to examine our priorities and to make some difficult choices regarding how we work and where we invest. The GSMA was affected by the loss of revenue from events, we’ve adjusted accordingly, striking a balance to deliver value to our members and represent an industry that has shown remarkable resilience through this pandemic. As an industry, our work has never been more salient.

Back then, did you expect that MWC 2021 would also have to be rescheduled to July? 
MWC20 taught us to remain flexible and to pivot quickly to emergent information. We introduced a brand new platform, GSMA Thrive, and engaged thousands, virtually, around the globe. Many organisations had to adapt, we are just one.

What lessons have you and the GSMA learned from this process?
It is important, now more than ever, for the GSMA to convene the industry as we work together to address global financial recovery. In person-events are key to this recovery and we know the value of people being together. So, we are working to ensure we deliver a safe MWC in July. We will have more to share on that in the coming weeks.

Are you 100% confident that MWC 2021 will go ahead this summer? 
MWC21 is taking place on 28 June – 1 July 2021 in Barcelona, and we are planning boldly but cautiously for an in-person event. The GSMA continues to monitor global circumstances, seeking expert advice and collaborating as information emerges in this dynamic situation.

How can you ensure the safety of the congress?
The health and safety of our exhibitors, attendees, staff and the people of Barcelona remain our top priority. We will incorporate the latest guidance, regulations and technologies to create a touchless environment in which collaboration, networking and deal-making can thrive. In a matter of weeks, we will be kicking off the first of our MWC series in Shanghai. We are taking extraordinary steps to ensure the health and safety of exhibitors, attendees, staff, and Shanghai people at this highly anticipated in-person event. This event will help supplement Barcelona’s decisions and protocols, increasing our confidence around creating the world-class experience commensurate with the reputation of the GSMA.

Will exhibitors and visitors have to take PCR or rapid tests before entering the congress?
All attendees will be required to provide proof of a recent, negative Covid test. As many airports and airlines are implementing similar policies, we are confident that attendees will be more than willing to comply. Testing, at a separate venue, will also be offered to all attendees. We are working closely with the public health authorities to ensure this testing is administered in compliance with medical and other regulations.

How many exhibitors are already confirmed for MWC21?
We are grateful for our exhibitors’ support. About 80% will return in 2021. Of course, every year, we see turnover in participation. To date, activity is consistent with past years. We believe this reflects the industry’s commitment to be a leader in our collective and global recovery.

What will be the highlights of this year’s MWC?
This year’s key message is Connected Impact, we have seen how important connectivity has been to the response to the pandemic, making this theme extremely relevant as we plan for the recovery. There are a number of themes you can expect throughout the show including 5G, Connectivity and AI. More can be found at https://www.mwcbarcelona.com/themes

How would you describe the impact that the Mobile World Congress has had in Barcelona over the last few years? 
MWC has, over the years, contributed almost €5 billion and 110,000 part-time jobs to the Spanish economy. The future is tough to predict right now but, we are sure of this, we value our partnership with the city of Barcelona and look forward to being a part of its recovery from this pandemic.

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