The world’s largest mobile phone trade fair, Mobile World Congress, has been cancelled after scores of the world’s biggest technology and telecommunications companies pulled out over fears of the spread of the coronavirus.
The MWC, which was due to be held in Barcelona on 24 February, was expecting more than 100,000 delegates from about 200 countries across the four days of the conference.
On Wednesday, GSMA, which organises the congress, was forced to admit it would have to axe this year’s event after more than 40 companies pulled out citing health and safety concerns.
The list of no-shows had grown to become a who’s who of the world’s biggest tech and telco firms including BT, the owner of mobile firm EE, Facebook, Nokia, Ericsson, the US chipmaker Intel, Cisco, Amazon, Vodafone and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom.
The Chinese firm Huawei, the controversial smartphone and 5G component maker that was scheduled to be one of the event’s biggest exhibitors, had flown employees to Spain to self-quarantine in advance.
The GSMA had banned travellers from Hubei, the province at the centre of the virus outbreak. Approximately 5,000-6,000 (5-6%) of the attendees each year have come from China.
The trade show’s organisers had attempted to allay concerns by announcing more stringent health and safety measures including a ban on handshakes, and taking attendees’ temperatures. However, this appeared to backfire, galvanising companies who had been monitoring the situation to confirm they would pull out.
John Hoffman, the chief executive of GSMA, said the virus had made it impossible to hold the event.
“The GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concerns and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” said Hoffman. “The host city parties respect and understand this decision. The GSMA and the host city partners will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions.”
The organisation may have to bear the cost of a full cancellation unless the Spanish government changes its position on the coronavirus and moves to declare a health alert.
It will also represent a significant loss to Barcelona and the city’s hospitality industry. The show is estimated to be worth about €500m (£420m) to the city and provides 14,000 part-time jobs for local workers.