MWC Shanghai kicked off last week, bringing large-scale events back to Asia

MWC Shanghai kicked off last week, bringing large-scale events back to Asia

While the pandemic has kept trade shows on the sidelines in 2020, exhibition organisers and associations are cautiously optimistic this year will be better, forecasting that the enforcement of safety measures and growing pent up demand will see global event revenues doubling in 2021

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Big tech events are returning to the region with the resumption of Mobile World Congress MWC Shanghai 2021 last week.

About 20,000 visitors, mostly from China, are expected to visit the Shanghai New International Expo Centre. A virtual dedicated portal my MWC Online, will offer international visitors an opportunity to attend the event and conferences.

The event kicked off with a keynote address from Mats Granryd, Director General, GSM Association GSMA. The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, comprising more than 750 operators with almost 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem.

Some 150 speakers from organisations like China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Huawei, Lenovo, Nokia, Verizon and ZTE, will be speaking, in addition to exhibits from over 200 companies

However, the 20,000 visitor count is still less than the 60,000 that attended MWC Shanghai 2019.

According to the GSMA, only 9% of the attendees at MWC Shanghai 2019 came from the Asia-Pacific region. Eighty percent came from China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan

Sihan Bo Chen, head of Greater China at the GSMA, added “This is a meeting that brightens the hopes and sends a very positive signal for the global telecoms industry.”

Last year’s MWC Shanghai was cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak

China is among a few countries holding an in-person trade show since the start of the pandemic. Masks are compulsory and exhibitors must adhere to strict capacity limits.

While many countries are struggling to control COVID-19, China has managed to control the pandemic effectively.  However, controlling the virus is always difficult, and hard to predict when infections can surge. A flurry of new cases from workers in contact with contaminated food was detected in late December.

Question marks remain on big shows

With the pandemic a concern worldwide, questions remain over holding big technology showcases in the first quarter of this year.

Last month the organisers of ISPO Beijing, a regional fashion sports and apparel exhibition that typically occupies 50,000 square metres of exhibition space, postponed the event in lieu of health and safety concerns.

In a statement on its website, the organisers said that it was a responsible decision to cancel large-scale events. “ISPO Beijing has to be postponed, to protect the health and safety of our exhibitors and visitors, and the public. In order to further implement the prevention and control of pneumonia caused by COVID-19, the people's lives and health are given top priority.”

The Beijing organisers added that "the re-outbreak of this epidemic and related governmental instructions constitute force majeure since they are objective circumstances that are unforeseeable, unavoidable, and insurmountable. Carrying out the show would also have been unreasonable under the current circumstances.” 

UFI: One third of organisations want events to return

The readiness of exhibition companies and attendees to resume events and see more travel restrictions lifted were not surprisingly, listed as the keys to business recovery.

UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, says that its bi-annual UFI Global Barometre forecasts industry revenues will double in 2021, compared to 2020. The association also predicted that more than a third or 37% of organisations expect event and exhibition activity to rise to near pre-pandemic levels hits, compared to 10% in January.

“This is the darkest hour before the dawn. This tunnel will end, driven by vaccination drives. We believe we are in for a busy year.” 

- Kai Hattendorf, UFI managing director and CEO UFI

Hattendorf said the importance of keeping events business afloat is critical. “If we are able to run marketplaces, we need the industry’s ecosystem intact on the other side of COVID.”

"It's been a tough 12 months but a path to a post-pandemic world is starting to emerge. Importantly, 5G and mobile communications sit at the heart of that recovery," said Mats Granryd. "We're already planning for the return of MWC Barcelona this summer. The momentum created in Shanghai will be carried on to the Barcelona event, which will mark the next step forward for our industry."

Mobile World Congress 2021 in Barcelona is slated to take place June 28 to July 1.

MWC 2020 was cancelled two weeks before the show after a spate of withdrawals. With the pandemic still running rife in Europe, that may still yet happen.

In Singapore Informa Tech, the Infocomm Media Development Authority Singapore (IMDA) and the Singapore Tourism Board recently announced a new flagship tech event, called Asia Tech x Singapore (ATxSG), will be held in a hybrid format from July 13 to 16.

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