We Take an Exclusive Look around the New Venue for Mobile World Congress
I've recently had the chance to visit the Fira Gran Via, the new venue for this year's Mobile World Congress, which is located four kilometres outside central Barcelona in a place called L'Hospitalet de Llobregat. Like most people I was deeply sceptical about the move to a new venue, but having seen what the location can offer, I've changed my mind.
First impressions count for a lot, and if you approach the new venue from certain directions, you'll definitely wonder where on earth you're going as you pass through a nondescript industrial landscape.
However, once you get inside the venue you realise you're in a modern, purpose-built facility that is ideal for a show of the magnitude of Mobile World Congress. This year the organisers are already estimating that 70,000 people will attend. The exhibition area has expanded from 70,500 to 95,000 square metres, and that's just the booths themselves, not the restaurants, meeting areas and other communal areas.
The reality is that after seven years Mobile World Congress had outgrown its previous home. The original Fira venue was getting pretty tired. There's no question it was an amazing setting, close to the heart of the city and with the National Art Museum and numerous fountains as a striking backdrop. But the infrastructure was creaking. Registration was a nightmare, getting in and out an ordeal at busy times. Even simple things like the limited number of restaurants, informal places to meet and toilet facilities were below par.
Those of you worried that you'll now be buried in cavernous sheds with no opportunity to catch some of the Spanish spring sunshine will be pleased to hear that the new venue features a lot of natural light between the halls, and the GSM Association is investing a small fortune in outdoor areas if you want to take a short break from the show and catch some fresh air. Below is a mock-up of what the organisers expect it to look like.
There'll also be a few readers who remember the horrendous rain at previous events. I got completely soaked one year, making for a pretty uncomfortable final day of the show as I dripped from meeting to meeting. The new venue allows you to pass from hall to hall along a giant covered walkway (shown below) that links all the exhibition areas.
I'm also a lot more optimistic that I won't have to spend my time running out to numerous hotels and other venues around the site, as has happened in previous years. (A note to any PR folks reading this: please avoid any off-site meetings — I suspect people will be reluctant to go off the new site at all during the day). However, I must warn you about the sheer scale of the venue —there's no doubt you'll need some comfortable shoes. As if to underline the size of the place, there are travelators between the halls.
One thing I can't yet comment on is getting to and from the venue. The GSM Association says it's confident it will be OK. There's a train station close to the venue, shuttle buses are being organised from Placa d'Espanya as well as from the airport, and the taxi ranks I saw are impressive. Apparently every taxi for miles around is being commissioned for the show and given the current economic conditions in Spain I'm sure all taxi owners will seize the opportunity to earn a month's wages in a few days. If you are feeling really flash you can even arrive and depart by helicopter.
Over the next few weeks I expect to see a lot of negativity on Twitter and other social streams about the changes to Mobile World Congress. It's human nature to be cautious about change. However, I wonder whether people will change their minds once they've had 24 hours at the venue.
The bottom line is that if you come with the attitude that you are at Mobile World Congress to work and you're not on holiday, the new venue is a great deal more practical than its predecessors in Cannes and the old Fira. The challenge for the organisers is that people like visiting a destination. There is no question that some of that is lost with the move, but I can say with confidence the newly located Mobile World Congress certainly has a great deal more appeal to me than the dreaded CeBIT of yesteryear.
To find out more about Mobile World Congress 2013, see:
- CCS Insight's Flickr gallery of the Fira Gran Via
- Sascha Segan's Complete Travel Guide to Mobile World Congress
- GSM Association's virtual fly-through of the new venue