Event Management

Coronavirus Concerns That Prompted Mobile World Congress Cancellation Signal Worldwide Events Impact

Skift Take

The Mobile World Congress, one of the biggest tech events of the year attracting 100,000 attendees and over 28,000 exhibitors – many from China – has cancelled this year's event due to mounting concerns over the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. This marks the highest profile example yet of the impact to events.

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) is one of the biggest tech events of the year, attracting 100,000 attendees and over 28,000 exhibitors – many from China, from which flights have been banned for the last week in an effort to contain the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

Despite a detailed list of enhanced safety measures published by GSM Association (GSMA), high profile exhibitors continued to drop out of the Barcelona event due to concerns over the level of risk attached to an event of this scale.

Ultimately, GSMA decided to cancel MWC, citing the exhibitor exodus making it impossible to go on. The question remaining is whether MWC will serve as the bellwether for other major global events.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the attendance restrictions and health measures GSMA responded with, as well as what the future might hold for upcoming events in the wake of the coronavirus.


Current State of the Mobile World Congress

The list of exhibitors who backed out of MWC because of the coronavirus includes industry giants Amazon, Facebook, Sony, and LG among others.

Originally, MarketWatch reported that organizers would decide whether or not to cancel the event by this Friday, February 14, but the decision has already been reached.

Prior to the cancellation announcement, the GSMA released a comprehensive set of attendance restrictions and safety measures in order to assuage mounting concerns over the level of risk the event presents.

Damage control efforts included banning visitors from Hubei province and requiring prospective attendees who have been to China to prove that they have been out of the country for at least 14 days. Additionally, the GSMA committed to doubling the on-site medical staff from last year, implementing temperature screening, and requiring all attendees to self-certify that they had not been in contact with anyone infected with coronavirus.

They event went as far as to propose a no-handshake policy.


What the MWC Means for Other Events

The fallout of the drop-outs and event cancellation remain to be seen. Unfortunately for MWC exhibitors and attendees, event organizers are so far standing by their standard insurance and cancellation policies.

The exhibition insurance coverage includes loss of costs and expenses due to cancellation “beyond the control of the company or the organizer” of up to £10,000 (US$12,953). However, the fine print excludes cancellations resulting from

any communicable disease which leads to:

i) the imposition of quarantine or restriction in movement of people or animals by any national or international body or agency and/or

ii) any travel advisory or warning being issued by a national or international body or agency; and

in respect of i) or ii) any fear or threat thereof (whether actual or perceived).

In layman’s terms, it doesn’t seem that exhibitors who dropped out were initially able to claim any compensation, though this may have changed as a result of the event cancellation.

What lessons can be learned by other event organizers from MWC?

Regardless of size, the downward spiral of this event highlights the importance of a clear cancellation policy within the exhibitor agreement. As we reported earlier this week, cancellations and postponements can be expected across the world – not just in Asia. Both organizers and exhibitors should have a firm understanding of what is actually covered (and more importantly, not covered) in their contracts and insurance policies.

Getting creative to salvage future events in the coming months should also be a priority for event planners.

It’s time to prepare for alternative solutions, particularly for events with a global attendance base. Investing in virtual meetings infrastructure can help reduce potential losses from cancelled events.

Drafting a crisis communications plan can also help you prepare proactively, rather than reactively. The WHO recently confirmed the need to remain “calm and measured,” and steer away from the mentality that every event needs to be cancelled because of coronavirus. Instead, the organization advises everyone to take a risk management approach rather than moving straight into panic mode.



The future of events as a result of coronavirus needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Event planners should prioritize agility in order to respond as circumstances change. Add clear cancellation policies to all attendee, vendor, and exhibitor contracts and also consider increased health measures on-site. Smaller events may consider virtual meetings and all organizers should craft an effective crisis communications plan.

Being flexible and responding to last-minute challenges is at the heart of every event planner’s job. While coronavirus brings a new level of seriousness to the events space, professionals should expect to flex their problem-solving muscles rather than going into panic mode.


UPDATE: This story was updated to include news that the Mobile World Congress was cancelled on Wednesday.