Lessons from the pandemic: Planning a return to MWC Barcelona

The last 12 months have been a learning experience for all of us. Many have suffered great hardship or made sacrifices, personally and professionally. It seems that each day brings a situation never encountered before that requires the adoption of new behaviours or to adjust to new restrictions on our usual way of doing things.

When I reflect on my own experience, two things stand out for me.

Firstly, planning during a pandemic is complicated. Without a doubt, the past 15 months, from the cancellation of MWC20 to delivery of MWC21, have been our biggest challenge. Organisations of all types and sizes are making decisions with restrictions and/or rapidly changing information. Every day I speak with leaders who tell me about trials they are facing. I encourage them to persevere, better times are ahead and we will be stronger for it.

When we moved ahead with our commitment to return to live in-person events at MWC Shanghai in February, many doubted us. At times, we doubted ourselves. But I knew we needed to keep going and deliver a unique and safe MWC experience, and that is what we did.  We tested everyone attending and I’m pleased to report we had no confirmed Covid cases before, during or after the event.

Yes, it was different than other years, and I remain disappointed that I could not be there in person, but the words of thanks and encouragement we received made the whole effort worthwhile. Even more important was the experience we gained, prioritising as we continue to do, health and safety above everything else and it has guided  our planning for Barcelona.

Yes, the circumstances in both cities are very different, but the principles are the same. Build strong partnerships with mutually motivated parties, remain agile to pivot when required and plan for the unexpected. We will not overcome these challenges alone.

Secondly, I am consistently encouraged by the collective desire to make MWC Barcelona 2021 a reality. The resolve from GSMA staff, the Host City Parties, our key partners, and our incredible community of exhibitors and sponsors is genuinely inspiring. Teams of people are working around the clock on all aspects of planning for the event to ensure everyone can experience MWC Barcelona 2021, in person or online.

This spirit is exemplified by the recent announcement from the Ministry of the Interior of the Government of Spain. They’ve agreed to allow MWC21 Barcelona registrants to enter Spain. This involved expanding the ‘highly qualified workers’ exception to include exhibitors, attendees, sponsors, stand-builders and partners – on proof of registration for MWC21. This means everyone from our vast and global ecosystem, will be allowed to attend MWC21!

To me, classifying delegates as ‘highly qualified workers’ underlines the essential work and global impact of the mobile industry. And of course, this is on the condition that attendees adhere to the steps outlined in our multi-layered health and safety plan, Committed Community.

We are making every effort to simplify travel in these circumstances, and in the coming weeks, we will announce details of further resources and steps to aid with journey planning.  In many ways, life and business will never be the same again and none of us will take international travel for granted in future.

As I have said previously, not everyone will be able to join us in person this year so, we continue to improve our digital offering. In the past, MWC has set the gold standard for industry events, and we will continue to do so in the hybrid era.

They say that times of crisis accelerate progress and innovation. The impact of this global pandemic, which has been the farthest-reaching in my memory, has proved no exception to that thinking. The rate of change is phenomenal, and this will be reflected in the changing MWC experience; however, you plan to share it with us.

I cannot share these thoughts without acknowledging the extraordinary lengths people are expending to ensure MWC21 is unmissable. Their efforts reflect a profound truth not just about MWC but about human connection, forging lasting partnerships and re-establishing working relationships. Their fuel is a sincere desire to recover from this tricky situation whilst balancing the recognition that we must adhere to strict guidelines and act responsibly, each doing our part.

I must also say a big thank you to all of our exhibitors.  We are grateful to count so many leaders as part of our loyal MWC family and the support we’ve received is overwhelmingly positive. I will miss seeing some of our long-time partners and friends in-person, but respect that we are leading in unprecedented times. The ongoing collaboration to pivot some of our exhibitors to a virtual presence is creativity and innovation at its best. It makes me proud to serve this ecosystem.

However you plan to attend, I look forward to seeing you there.

John Hoffman,
CEO, GSMA Limited.

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