Just hours after canceling MWC 2020 in Barcelona questions remain about the motivations for this decision. John Hoffman, CEO of the GSMA the organizer insists in a telephone interview from London that the unfounded fear of the coronavirus made the fair impossible to celebrate.
There are many questions that you may not be able to answer because probably some have no answer either. I will try to help you understand this decision that has been incredibly complex and that we were forced to make. Not that we wanted to take it because we wanted the MWC to be held, but it was impossible. Health and safety are our priority. We had no other choice.
BUT THERE WERE NO REAL PUBLIC HEALTH REASONS
We are different from the fairs for the general public. Our main strength also becomes our main problem. We brought together 110,000 people from all over the world from different ecosystems, countries, cultures. It was literally the perfect storm. If the moment in which everything happened had been different, if the MWC had been two weeks ago there would have been no problem.
IN AMSTERDAM, FOR EXAMPLE, A SIMILAR FAIR HAS BEEN HELD.
I can’t talk about Amsterdam. I do not know the details but they were before us. Perhaps when they analyzed the situation they came to different conclusions. When we did our analysis, we clearly focused on the safety of our visitors, our exhibitors, employees, and the community. We have no obligation to take care of the community, but we recognize that the city, the autonomy, the country, the Fira are also partners and we want to act responsibly. We are here for a long period of time. It is a decision based on the future. We chose a difficult decision in the short term, which we had to make, looking to the future.
BUT THERE WILL BE SOME ECONOMIC EFFECTS.
The main factor in our decision was health and safety. And, much lower down, the reputation of MWC, GSM, and Barcelona, although we have no obligation to take care of it, we recognize that we are partners of the Fira Barcelona Catalonia Spain. We don’t want to do anything that could damage your reputation. Yes, but, I repeat, the economic effects. Do you have insurance that covers circumstances like those that have occurred?
Lower still what was not taken into account when canceling are financial considerations. I honestly do not know what type of insurance coverage we have and its conditions. But in any case, no policy covers fear and that is what we have to deal with. The fear of flying or being surrounded by strangers, any kind of fear is what has led us to make the only and correct decision. When we look back we will see ourselves making a difficult but correct decision.
ARE THERE PRECEDENTS?
If we look at the past and see what happened to SARS, the reality is that it did not affect our fair, the predecessor of the MWC; because the moment it happened was different. We held the event before SARS became the recurring theme. Then it reached its maximum peak and fell again when we had to celebrate the next event. Therefore, the timing was perfect. On the other hand, in the case of MWC 2020, times have been a perfect storm.
What did the companies say? We listened to their requests as clients and they told us they did not want to come. We are a professional event where sellers and buyers get together and when you don’t have the buyers and some of the sellers you no longer have an event. For that kind of thing, and that is where health and safety affected their decisions, it is when we saw when deciding that everything was based on fear, health, the safety of the colleagues who were going to be at the fair, and interacting with other people, and that made us reach the only possible conclusion.
WAS THERE NO OTHER SOLUTION?
It would have been a forced event, the MWC could not be held no matter how much it hurts, although it was going to be the best of those we have held. I say it with my hand on my heart. Do you think multibrand fairs such as MWC could lose strength compared to Apple-style conventions? Cisco, for example, has its own convention and at the same time participates very actively in the MWC. We have companies that do both. The main characteristic of MWC in the past and for the future is to bring the entire ecosystem together, mixing companies from different activities doing business. I don’t think this model will change in the short term.