Europe’s largest tech event forced online by the pandemic

Europe’s largest technology conference will be held entirely online this year, as the coronavirus pandemic forces scores of major events to go digital.

© Henrique Casinhas/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
LISBON, PORTUGAL – 2019/11/07: Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa speaks during the closing ceremony of the annual Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon. (Photo by Henrique Casinhas/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The organizers of Web Summit said in a statement on Thursday that the decision followed discussions with the Portuguese government and city of Lisbon.

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“Lisbon is still Web Summit’s home but with growing Covid-19 outbreaks across Europe, we have to think of what’s best for the people of Portugal and our attendees,” said the conference’s founder Paddy Cosgrave. “The safest and most reasonable answer is to host Web Summit fully online in 2020. We look forward to welcoming attendees back to Lisbon in 2021,” he added.

Web Summit is the latest major event to be forced online, canceled or postponed, as a second wave of coronavirus infections in Europe prompts several governments to tighten restrictions and implement localized lockdowns. More than 70,000 people attended the tech gathering last year from 163 countries.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) said on Wednesday that its annual meeting of world leaders and CEOs, typically held in January in Davos, will instead take place in Lucerne in May. But that will only happen if the health and safety of participants can be guaranteed.

A series of “Davos dialogues” will be held online during the week of January 25, head of public engagement at the WEF Adrian Monck said in a statement.

The decisions highlight the challenges event organizers face in returning to business as usual before a Covid-19 vaccine is widely available. Already this year, South by Southwest, Mobile World Congress and several Amazon Web Services summits set to take place in cities around the world have been canceled. Amazon’s cloud computing division opted to hold a virtual summit in June instead, which was the same month that Apple held its legendary Worldwide Developer Conference online for the first time.

Web Summit’s organizers were hopeful in June that the conference would go ahead in Lisbon, with a combination of online and offline elements. But with the pathway of the virus impossible to predict, they said the plans would be subject to Portugal’s health protocols for events.

Web Summit said it will be able to host 100,000 attendees online via its own conference platform from December 2 – 4. About 800 speakers will join this year’s event, including Zoom founder Eric Yuan, the co-founder of Slack Cal Henderson, and European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

Companies planning to exhibit online include Cisco Systems, Siemens, UBS and Cloudflare.

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