From previous experience, I knew it was better to book flights and hotels for MWC in Barcelona early. But this year, the unexpected happened. MWC was cancelled. After two minutes of careful consideration, I decided to go anyway and find what goes on in the city without the crowds. It was a very different kind of week.
When I tried booking a flight from London to Barcelona basically all flights for Sunday from Heathrow were full. So, I took a flight from Gatwick, even though it is more complex for me. Then three days before the flight, when the event was cancelled, I started to look for options to change my flight. It was easy, with many available options from Heathrow. Finally, my Sunday afternoon flight from Heathrow to Barcelona was 80% empty.
The arrival to Barcelona was a sad experience. Normally you walk to the hall where hundreds of people queue their conference pass and then get instructions to find the right subway line or other transportation. Now there were maybe three people with me in the hall to buy a metro ticket from the vending machines.
Many side events were cancelled too, so I prepared to do many normal daily work tasks in the city. I spent time at WeWork, as there are actually several nice WeWork centres in Barcelona. You can also get to meet many local startup people at those centres.
Barcelona didn’t look as empty as someone might expect. It was normal busy city life and, of course, also many tourists. People also followed the Coronavirus news carefully, especially when more infections were detected in Northern Italy and Tenerife, not too far away. I also met people who had been able to get free tickets or hotel rooms from some companies that had originally booked them for MWC.
I was eventually able to find some events. For example, GP Bullhound had their 2020 Technology Prediction event in the nice Gaude’s Casa Milà. I estimate more than 100 people had come there and had some active discussions after the presentations.
MEF (Mobile Ecosystem Forum) also had workshops over a couple of days near Fira Europa. I participated in the second day. Not many people, I would say 20 to 30, but the quality of the discussions and presentations was excellent. For example, sessions about the future of personal data and IoT were very good. They had also prepared for the networking drinks before the cancellation, and it looked like they had more than enough Cava!
Tech Spirit Barcelona was the biggest event I was able to find in the city. It was really to get startups and entrepreneurs who were in Barcelona to have useful time together. There were hundreds of people at the event and several companies and entrepreneurs were able to make presentations. As a whole it was a very good event, and also demonstrated how entrepreneurs can quickly organize solutions during unexpected circumstances. They took action and wanted to utilize the opportunity when the corporate guys were sitting at home.
Late February is not only MWC time in Barcelona, it is also the time of official Formula 1 winter testing at Barcelona Circuit. So, I went to see the F1 tests and evaluated the strengths of the teams before the season starts. It looks like Mercedes is going to dominate this season too. Ferrari might have a tough time, and maybe Red Bull is the main challenger to Mercedes.
The weather was really nice this year. Food and restaurants are always nice in Barcelona. Now it was much easier to find a nice place to eat, when MWC visitors are not occupying all the places. It is also much better to go to nice coffee shops in the city than those terrible overpriced places inside the conference.
Anyway, it was not the same experience as meeting all mobile and digital business people during one week. It was also a big hit for Barcelona’s economy, some said €500 million. Others in Barcelona have been critical that the city has too many visitors. Maybe this was a reminder for them that those people bring a lot of money to the city. I believe everyone hopes that coronavirus will be controlled soon, and we can return to normal. Although it is good to remember, the world and life are always full of risks, and we must just believe in progress and move forward.