PREVIEW-Mobile World Congress hopes for bigger party as Spain eases restrictions

Band Supantha Mukherjee and Joan Faus

STOCKHOLM/BARCELONA, February 9 (Reuters)Mobile World Congress (MWC), the telecommunications industry’s largest annual gathering, hopes to draw around 50,000 attendees to the Spanish city of Barcelona, ​​making it one of the largest physical events since the start of the pandemic.

Online conferencing has become the norm over the past two years, boosting valuations for conferencing companies such as Zoom ZM.O and Hopin, but as the pandemic recedes, the appetite for doing business in person is slowing the recovery.

This year, Nokia’s top executives NOKIA.HEEricsson ERICb.STAmazon AMZN.O and Cisco CSCO.O have confirmed their participation in the conference after a two-year hiatus.

While a handful of companies such as Lenovo 0992.HK attend virtually, most of the other big names, including Samsung 005930.KS and Huawei HWT.UL will present new products on the site.

“I’m desperate to reconnect with people in real life,” said Allison Kirkby, CEO of Telia. TELIA.ST. “Innovation only happens when people come together.”

MWC was one of the first events to be canceled in 2020 as COVID-19 began to spread across the world. Normally held in February, in 2021 it moved to June and a scaled down version.

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

“We have 1,500 confirmed exhibitors, 1,000 speakers, and of the seven rooms we will engage, we have an 85% occupancy rate,” said Mats Granryd, managing director of conference organizer GSMA.

The event will run from February 28 to March 3.

As Spain’s daily coronavirus cases still top 40,000, the country rolled back restrictions following a high vaccination rate, including lifting the requirement for people to wear masks outdoors from Thursday .

Many companies send out invitations to product launches, dinner meetings and other events spread across Barcelona.

A vaccination certificate is sufficient this year to attend the MWC, while last year an attendee had to get tested at the gates of the venue to gain entry. There will be no one on site this year to remind participants to respect social distancing.

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

“We are very optimistic and convinced that this conference will really reactivate Barcelona’s international and trade fair activity,” the city’s deputy mayor, Jaume Collboni, told Reuters.

“We’re telling the world we’re back.”

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

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