It is that time of the year again. The Mobile World Congress (MWC), the biggest technology exhibition and conference in the world, starts in Barcelona tomorrow. This weekend thousands of delegates, exhibitors, press, security and service personnel, are arriving in the Catalan capital city for the event.
Some of the main activities have already started. Today, several companies, such as Nokia, LG and Samsung, host special gatherings to launch their new products and meet customers, partners and the press.
This year the GSMA, which organizes the event in collaboration with Fira de Barcelona, expects over 100,000 delegates, plus 4,000 journalists and analysts, 160 government delegations, and an additional 15,000 people working in different service roles, such as tech support, hostesses, catering, and security.
The cities of Barcelona and L’Hospitalet de Llobregat have been busy preparing for the MWC, as the massive arrival of attendees and exhibitors will test public services, especially transport.
While many large corporations at the show arrange private vans and coaches to shuttle their people from the hotels to the fairgrounds, many delegates use the public transit system to move around the city.
Fortunately, this year there won’t be any strikes affecting the public services. Barcelona’s councilor for mobility and president of the Metropolitan Transport Authority Mercedes Vidal told me this week that a metro strike had been avoided, and last summer the city signed a framework agreement with bus drivers to avoid further conflicts.
Taxi drivers, however, are on full alert for illegal competition. The “sharing economy” platforms, such as Uber and Lyft, do not operate in Barcelona, as they won’t comply with Catalan passenger transport rules. However, some people with private vehicles go to the airport, train stations, and other popular areas to offer taxi services to foreign visitors. If the police catch them in the act they will fine the driver up to € 4,000 ($ 4,250), confiscate the vehicle, and also fine the passenger.
Accommodation is always tricky. The GSMA and many exhibitors reserve thousands of hotel rooms in advance and offers them to delegates. Despite agreements between the organization and the main hotels, rates are high during the show and there is a shortage of rooms for travelers arriving in Barcelona for the MWC.
Barcelona also has thousands of tourist apartments that are licensed by the city. They can be found on most of the hotel reservation websites.
Airbnb is one of most popular sites to search for inexpensive accommodation, even though many hosts raise their prices during the show. Some of them are known to engage in questionable speculation by cancelling previous reservations and raising the price, which is not a surprise since most Airbnb listings in Barcelona are illegal.
Sightseeing and Entertainment
Barcelona is a tourist magnet and the fourth most popular European destination for holidaymakers. The two most popular sights are the Sagrada Familia Basilica and the Football Club Barcelona (Barça) Museum. Visiting the Sagrada Familia is a must for first time visitors, and tickets sell fast.
Barça is also playing in the Camp Nou on Wednesday night (March 1). It could be an opportunity to visit the largest football stadium in the world and watch one of world’s best teams in action.
This year’s MWC coincides with carnival celebrations in Barcelona and other nearby towns. One of the most popular parades is in Sitges, a coastal town one-hour south of Barcelona. Their Sunday and Tuesday night parades are world famous.
Tips for MWC attendees
- Unless you are staying within walking distance of the fairgrounds allow up to one hour to get to the show. If your company doesn’t provide private transportation, use the Metro and trains. The nearest station is Europa Fira.
- Use buses and taxis to the fairgrounds only when absolutely necessary, as traffic jams in the area occur in the morning. It could take you an additional half-hour for the last mile.
- Don’t look for Uber in Barcelona, it doesn’t operate here. Apps such as MyTaxi and HailO will let you book official taxis in the city.
- When using taxis avoid paying cash. All licensed taxis in Barcelona accept credit cards, and tipping is not necessary or customary. Some taxi drivers, knowing that many foreigners tip, claim that they can’t accept credit cards, as there is no way to leave a tip with cashless payments.
- All congress delegates get a four-day free transit card for the duration of the show. If you arrive on Sunday and/or plan to stay longer consider buying a T-10 card (ten trips for € 9.95). It is valid for all public transport in Barcelona (Metro, Buses, Trams and Trains) with free transfer within 75 minutes. All train and metro stations have automated machines selling the transport cards and accept most credit cards.
Banking and Shopping
- In Barcelona you can find a bank branch and an ATM in almost every corner. If you are coming to the city with currency other than Euros, try not to use exchange shops, as their rates are the worst. If you have a debit card, use it to withdraw money from an ATM.
- You’ll find that you can pay for almost everything with plastic, please use it. It is safer and you’ll get a receipt.
- Please do not buy anything from street vendors, especially fake souvenirs. They are controlled by mafias that exploit them, and you can be fined € 50 by the police for purchasing fake copyrighted items.
- IMPORTANT FOR NON-EURO CARD HOLDERS: Banks and point-of-sale terminals will ask you if you want to pay in Euros or convert the charge to your own currency. Always pay in Euros, it will save you 2% to 5% of “currency conversion fees”.
- Barcelona is considered one of the safest cities in the world. Serious crime is almost non-existent and you can walk in the streets any time without concern for personal safety.
- Pickpocketing, however, is widespread, especially in popular tourist areas, and pickpockets are skilled at their trade and work in teams.
- While you’ll need your passport or any EU ID card to pick up your MWC badge, leave one piece of ID in your hotel. If you activate the digital badge on your smartphone after registering, you won’t need to carry your passport to the show.
- There is a 24-hour toll-free police hotline for MWC attendees, which is printed on the back of your badge holder. The number is 900–77–2017. You can also dial 112 (EU emergency number) anytime.
This year’s MWC promises, again, to be the best ever. Technologies such as 5G networks, Virtual Reality, Connected Vehicles, and the Internet of Things will be the main topics of the show.
As usual, the economic impact for the city is enormous. Barcelona City Council estimates the show will generate more than € 465 million ($490 million) and create more than 13,200 temporary jobs in the Barcelona area.