News comes as Chinese death toll passes 1,100 and more than 50 companies drop out
The GSMA has cancelled this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona after days of speculation, due to concerns about the coronavirus.
It is the first instance of the event being cancelled in its 33-year history, after more than 50 major companies either withdrew from attending or scaled back their attendance.
In a statement, the industry body said: “With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event.”
The decision comes after many major companies withdrew, including Ericsson, Nokia, LG and Sony, and the death toll in China passed 1,100.
1/3 This year would've been my 23rd consecutive year at MWC – one of key weeks in the year for me so I'm pretty gutted it's cancelled but was starting to feel like death by 1000 cuts. The GSMA has been a victim of circumstances out of its control and it’s a huge disappointment.
— Ben Wood (@benwood) February 12, 2020
The GSMA twice affirmed its commitment to staging the event via official statements, promising additional health measures for delegates.
It had been reported that it was due to hold a meeting on whether or not to cancel the event on Friday (February 14), but local media reported earlier today that it had been brought forward to today.
It was then believed that the GSMA had reached the decision to proceed with MWC until its announcement this evening.
According to Spanish newspaper El Pais, the event generates around 14,000 temporary jobs in Barcelona and generates €492 million (almost £414 million).
CCS Insight chief of research Ben Wood said that small companies looking to network would be badly hit by the cancellation.
“The impact on small companies who have invested a disproportionate amount of their budgets and time on this event should not be under-estimated,” he said. “MWC is an anchor event for many and now they face the challenge of having to figure out what the best way to salvage something from this difficult situation.
“The GSMA now needs to be careful that there is not a knock-on effect from this year’s cancellation. Major companies and many attendees will be reviewing the importance of MWC to their business and the GSMA must work hard to have a clear path forward. This is particularly true for smaller business that have had to swallow many of the costs from this year’s show.”