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After Scrapping Mobile World Congress, Organizer Offers Refunds

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Nate Lanxon
·3 min read
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(Bloomberg) -- The organizer of the world’s biggest mobile technology conference, MWC 2020 in Barcelona, will offer refunds or discounts to future gatherings to the tens of thousands of attendees and companies that had paid to attend February’s canceled event.

MWC was an early major casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, and it had never been scrapped in its 33-year history. By removing it from the calendar, telecom heavyweights lost a significant opportunity to generate marketing buzz around their latest wares. The industry’s biggest players often spend tens of millions of dollars to exhibit at the show, and smaller ones pay in the hundreds of thousands.

On Wednesday the GSMA, the trade body for the mobile technology industry, said in a statement it will offer full refunds to all attendees for the cost of their tickets, which cost 799 euros ($865) for a basic admissions pass. For large exhibitors, the GSMA wants to incentivize discounts on attending the show in future years as an alternative to claiming large refunds.

Mats Granryd, the director general of the GSMA, said in an interview with Bloomberg at the time MWC was canceled that the trade body was “looking for solidarity” and everybody bearing their own costs.

It looks like that may be happening, to some extent. Some large operators have already expressed to the GSMA their intention to participate in MWC next year, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation. These include Orange SA, Telefonica SA, Vodafone Group Plc and NTT Docomo.

Larger companies will get the option of receiving a credit worth 125% of what they paid to exhibit at this year’s show, which will be applied as a 65% discount on the cost of attending next year, plus 35% and 25% discounts on the two subsequent years respectively.

Alternatively, they can claim refunds equivalent to 50% of their spend for MWC 2020, up to a maximum of 150,000 pounds ($178,000).

For smaller exhibitors -- those who spent up to 5,000 pounds -- a full refund will be offered. However, these firms can also opt to waive a refund and instead be granted a 125% credit and three years of discounts.

Companies that had canceled their attendance prior to the GSMA calling of the show will be offered credits and discounts, but not cash refunds.

The GSMA’s board is made up of executives from a number of the world’s biggest operators, including Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom AG, who agreed to the initial cancellation. The GSMA isn’t expecting its operator members to seek refunds.

About 80% of the GSMA’s annual budget is derived from the money it generates from MWC Barcelona, according to two people familiar with the group’s budget.

But internally, executives don’t consider the cancellation of MWC 2020 and Wednesday’s offer of refunds to be an existential threat, according to an executive with direct knowledge of board-level conversations who didn’t want to be named discussing private matters.

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