World's top phone show rises above Catalan secession cloud


Barcelona (AFP)

The world's largest phone show closed its doors Thursday in Barcelona with organisers reporting attendance figures on a par with last year's attendance, despite simmering tensions over Catalonia's failed bid to break from Spain.

The annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) is of high importance for Spain both financially and image-wise and there were fears that tensions over Catalonia could disrupt the event this year.

But after the MWC closed it doors, organisers said there had been about 107,000 visitors to the four-day fair this year, similar to the 108,000 people who came last year.

Organisers predict the congress will have had an economic impact on Barcelona and the surrounding area of 471 million euros ($575 million), and it created 13,000 part-time jobs.

"We had another highly successful Mobile World Congress, across so many fronts," John Hoffman, chief executive of the GSMA, the global mobile operators association which organised the event, said in a statement.

Faced with speculation that the MWC would move to another location, the GSMA recalled that its contract with the city runs until 2023, adding it would continue to "monitor developments" in Catalonia's secession crisis.

The next MWC is scheduled to be held February 25-28, 2019 in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and one of Europe's most-visited cities.

The omens weren't good before this year's show got underway.

There were small pro- and anti-monarchy protests hit Barcelona on Sunday, the eve of the WWC opening.

King Felipe VI, who had travelled to the Mediterranean city to attend the fair, is a divisive figure in the northeastern region since he made a stern speech in October denouncing the secession attempt by Catalan leaders.

During an inaugural ceremony on Sunday, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau and regional parliament speaker Roger Torrent, a separatist, refused to follow protocol and officially welcome the king.

But on the MWC's opening day Monday, Colau toured the stands with the king.