Mobile World Congress participants expected to nearly fill Barcelona hotels

Hotels around Barcelona are starting to fill as the city prepares to host the 11th edition of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) from the 22nd to the 25th of February at the Gran Via venue of the Fira de Barcelona. With between 95,000 to 100,000 visitors expected to attend, the highest number ever for the MWC, Barcelona’s Hotel Association expects to reach full occupancy on the peak days. Although the average rate for a room has gone down from €278 to €237 per night this year, some hotel rooms in central areas like Passeig de Gracia report rooms going for as much as €800 to €1,100 per night. Although the event blocked 26,300 rooms for the event with the city’s hotel association, the high demand for rooms in Barcelona has pushed some participants to look outside the city for rooms in Sitges, Castelldefels and even as far as Girona. 

Congressists at the MWC entrance, at Barcelona's Fira (by ACN)
Congressists at the MWC entrance, at Barcelona's Fira (by ACN) / ACN


February 18, 2016 07:12 PM

Barcelona (CNA). - Hotel occupancy in Barcelona is reaching its limits as visitors make their way into the city for the 11th edition of the Mobile World Congress (MWC). According to Barcelona’s Hotel Association, the city is expected to reach full occupancy from the 22nd until the 25th of February, the peak days of the congress. Since the event’s first edition in 2006, the MWC has drawn thousands of visitors from over 200 countries to Barcelona each year, making it the epicentre of the technology sector. Despite the increasing numbers in attendance, the average rate for a room per night has gone down from €278 to nearly €237. However, as the demand for hotel rooms rises around Barcelona some MWC attendees have been forced to look outside of Catalonia’s capital city for rooms, some going as far as Girona for a better price on lodging. 

In Barcelona, the 11th edition of the MWC expects to receive close to 100,000 visitors from countries like Italy, United Kingdom, Germany, France, the United States, and China, amongst many others. Past years have recorded visitors coming from over 200 countries, with 2015 recording an attendance record of nearly 94,000 technology professionals. After GSMA announced new keynote speakers last month, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, and additional events, even organisers are expecting this year’s MWC to be the best and most attended to date.

“Our 2016 edition is set to be our broadest, most exciting event yet”, said GSMA’s Chief Marketing Officer, Michael O’Hara. “We look forward to welcoming the mobile world to Barcelona” he emphasised. “We have an outstanding conference programme, with leaders from across the ecosystem, as well as adjacent industry sectors, showcasing how mobile is transforming everyday life for billions of people around the world” he stated and assured that Mobile World Congress attendees will have the opportunity “to experience the impact of mobile through the exhibition, partner programmes, seminars and many other events and activities”.

Hotel rates have nearly doubled

However, with the increasing attendance numbers, average hotel rates have nearly doubled for the event from the normal average for a hotel room in February, which in Barcelona normally runs for about €122. During the four-day event, the most expensive days and most full days at hotels are expected to be on Monday the 22nd of February and Tuesday the 23rd.

In order to avoid higher hotel rates, some have started to look outside of Barcelona to stay for the MWC. According to the website Trivago, Tarragona is showing a 22% availability of rooms during the dates of the event, with a room average of €74 per night. In Badalona and L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, there is 16% and 12% availability of rooms in each respective city, with an average rate of €116 per night.

Airbnb, a growing alternative

For those looking to avoid the increasing room rates, some have started to use the travel app and website Airbnb, staying with local residents who live in Barcelona and rent out rooms for the event. In 2015, Airbnb reported that nearly 18,000 people used their site to book rooms for the MWC. This year, Airbnb has confirmed that close to 30,000 people from almost 120 countries have booked rooms for an average of €54 per night. Over the past few weeks, there have also been increases in bookings from many cities in the United States like San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin as well as major European technology hubs like London, Stockholm, and Berlin. As a result, this year’s MWC marks a 400% increase in booking from a normal week of lodging in Barcelona at this time of year for Airbnb.

While this is a record for the travel app, Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk said it also confirms that the MWC has become a “benchmark in the world of innovation and business”, and stressed that travellers from large global technology centres will “enjoy an authentic local experience” during the event.

Although limited availability of rooms may be inconvenient for some visitors who cannot find a room in their price range or choose not to use Airbnb or sites like it, the increase in tourism for this event garnered nearly €436 million in 2015 for the local economy. Additionally, in 2015 the MWC created nearly 12,700 part-time jobs in the city. With the extended contract to keep the event in Barcelona until 2023, the MWC is expected to continue bringing in significant revenue and professional attention to the city as an international mobile centre for the technology industry.