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  • Thierry Spanjaard

MWC cancellation: the end of medieval fairs?

The ongoing coronavirus (or Covid-19) epidemic crisis has huge consequences. First of all, we express all our sympathy to all victims and their families, wish a fast recovery to all those affected by the disease, and commend the health and service professionals working to contain the outbreak.

The coronavirus affects the economy as it is at the same time jeopardizing the supply chain of many products and, as it brings a part of China to standstill, significantly reducing demand.

We all already know that the Mobile World Congress (MWC), a 100,000 visitors event taking place each year in Barcelona, has been canceled for 2020 in spite of the 9,411 km distance between Wuhan and Barcelona. The organizers first had to acknowledge the cancellation of Amazon, AT&T, BT, Cisco, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Facebook, Intel, LG, Nokia, NTT Docomo, Sony, STMicroelectronics, Vodafone and ZTE, among others. Even if the GSMA, the organizer of the event tries to keep its face, the cancellation of the MWC means a huge loss both for the industry and for the economy of Barcelona and Catalunya: the MWC usually requires over 14,000 temporary jobs and generates more than EUR 490 million for the city economy. The GSMA reaffirms that work is already underway with authorities to plan MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions.

Other events are also either postponed to better times in 2020, or simply cancelled for this year. For instance, in our industry, Money2020 Asia that takes place in Singapore is rescheduled, Convergence India, in Delhi, and Telecom World Asia, in Bangkok, are postponed, while Semicon/FPD China and Semicon Korea are cancelled.

Smart Insights Agenda section always keeps track of all upcoming events that relate to the secure transactions industry and is permanently updated to reflect cancellations and postponements.

Our technology oriented events are actually the heirs of the medieval trade fairs in which merchants traveled from far away to display and sell their rare goods and discoveries of remote regions. Spices, exotic fruits, perfumes, rare artworks, expensive clothes, rugs and other merchandise were on sale, and were acquired mainly by the nobility and those who had larger means than the plebe. Medieval fairs were also a means to spread information and new ideas, propagated by the merchants. Finally, these fairs were events bringing together large amounts of people who were able to get food and drinks from dedicated booths, and to attend magicians’ shows, music events and theater plays. They were often the only window people had on the outer world, allowing them to discover new ideas and technologies of the time.

In our times where information travels always faster and everything is available online, isn’t it time to reconsider the role of trade shows and other large technology oriented events? We have to question which purposes theses events serve. Major trade shows serve as a showcase competition between major companies, which often engage in a playground-style size challenge. They no longer bring information about unknown technology developments as all information is online. They are not the single channel of expression for leaders to voice their views, opinions and outlook as this can be done online. If the need to meet people and make new contacts, then smaller, more local, more targeted events may be a better option, especially as they allow to limit our environmental impact.

Finally, the cancellation of large events may be a trigger to update ways inherited from the Middle Ages...

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