GSMA tells MWC 2020 exhibitors it won’t be providing refunds

Out of pocket MWC exhibitors are being directed to a clause in their terms and conditions that absolves the GSMA of liability.

Two MWC 2020 exhibitors from opposite sides of the world independently contacted to inform us that they have received a communication from the GSMA, which runs the event, regarding the financial consequences of its cancellation. They were both directed to clause 21.10 of the Standard Terms and Conditions for Exhibition, Advertising, and Sponsorship, which reads as follows.

The Organizer shall not be liable to the Company for any losses, costs, damages or expenses (whether incurred under contract, tort or otherwise) suffered or incurred as a direct or indirect result of an event beyond the control of the Organizer, including without limitation, any act of God, disease or epidemic, strike, lock-out, industrial disturbance, failure of suppliers, act of public enemy, war, labor dispute, terrorist act, blockade, riot, civil commotion, public demonstration or governmental or local authority restraint nor shall the Organizer be liable to refund any fees.

The GSMA communication stressed that no refunds will be given, since this is a ‘force majeure’ situation, i.e. circumstances beyond the GSMA’s control. It goes on to say, however, that the GSMA is working on ‘a proposal’ designed to make the best of a bad situation and maintain good relations between the GSMA and its MWC commercial partners, which it expects to share by the end of March. We invited the GSMA to provide a statement on this matter but it declined to.

Rather alarmingly, the communication also refers to the situation created by the cancellation of MWC 2020 due to the coronavirus threat as ‘uninsurable’. Surely a lot of insurance exists precisely to cover ‘acts of God’ such as this. If the GSMA’s insurers are telling it that they’re not liable for any of the cost of the cancellation then that seems like a pretty rubbish policy.

Once more the GSMA was keen to stress that it’s a not-for-profit organisation and that it finds itself in a precarious financial position as a result of the cancellation. This communication seems to be designed to position the decision not to refund as something that is out of the GSMA’s hands and builds on the Bloomberg interview as a call for industry solidarity in these trying times.

There is plenty of reason to feel sympathy towards the situation the GSMA finds itself in. Of course it didn’t want to cancel the show and, having been forced to do so by circumstances beyond its control, it now faces an existential crisis. It’s also in the interest of exhibitors that value MWC to do their bit to ensure the event returns next year.

Where the GSMA will find it most difficult to inspire its exhibitors to take one for the team, however, is in the matter of what it costs to attend MWC. Every year we speak to exhibitors at the event who moan about how they feel exploited and, while the GSMA may be a not-for-profit, nobody doubts MWC Barcelona itself makes a massive profit.

The telecoms industry does need to show solidarity at a time like this, but it works both ways. It would be counter-productive in the long term for exhibitors not to accept their fair share of the cost of such an exceptional piece of collective bad luck. But at the same time the GSMA should ask itself if maximising the profit it makes on MWC is the best way to help the industry is was created to support.

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  1. Avatar Veli Startti 19/02/2020 @ 5:33 pm

    Their reasoning is incorrect. GSMA had up until the hour they cancelled continued to stress that the show will go on, and that WHO has assured them that they can (and should) hold the event with the precautions they were taking. Barcelona city refused to issue an emergency and there were zero cases of the coronavirus in Barcelona. So there was no epidemic theatening the city and it is not force majeure.

    They cancelled the event because too many major sponsors pulled out because of their fear of the virus.

    They may be able to claim they won’t compensate costs for travel/hotels/booth building costs, but they shouldnt be able to legally keep money paid to reserve booth space which was not used or rentals of furniture/ plants/ unused WIFI/ etc they offered through their event services.

    GSMA is trying to build a narrative which is not valid. Its unfortunate that sponsors did not trust that the event would be safe, but the threat of the possibility of a virus and no confirmation from WHO is not the same situation outlined in their contracts.

  2. Avatar Paul 19/02/2020 @ 6:04 pm

    As far as I know GSMA LTD is a company with BIG profits… Its separed from GSMA org – this one is NGO.
    GSMA LTD revenues comes from events and everyone in the Telecoms industry events knows about that.
    It’s a shame what they are doing.

  3. Avatar Stephen J Whitworth 19/02/2020 @ 7:27 pm

    Move it to another location next year call their bluff!

  4. Avatar Robert Bernsward 19/02/2020 @ 7:57 pm

    Dear Telecom Magazine,

    We are smaller telecom supplier who have consistently attend the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona over the years. Every year the stakes increased and this is especially true if you consider the exhibition fees + the construction and design of the booth stands and other associated costs where MWC bascially forces us to work with their official sub suppliers.

    This year we once again signed up and paid for booth at the MWC but as we all know, the MWC has been cancellled by GSMA due to the horrible outbreak of the Corona virus. Needless to say we as a smaller supplier would
    really like to see some kind of mutual refund process where we naturally also are able to carry one part of the costs, or as we have suggested would be open to transferring our costs to MWC 2021.

    But so far, this has been to no avail. MWC and its subsuppliers are simply referring to the contracts where they basically are 100% covering themselves and where all the onus is always at us as exhibitors, so we have to pay even though it is they who cancel and actually the contract states we have to pay due to basically any reason, they are never obliged to refund us.

    Fortunately most of our airline tickets were at least partly refundable, even though we were trying to keep costs due to intercontinental rates. Likewise, the hotel where our staff stays, which is completely other side of the Barcelona, was willing to let us transfer the payments for our rooms to the next MWC in 2021, less an admin fee. But with MWC and its subsuppliers like official supplier for venues and event solutions, they simply refer to the contracts and to the fact that the onus is on us to pay.

    So basically GSMA MWC set-up a conference, have us pay over one hundred thousand punds for our booth, anthoer 80 thousand punds for the booth design and interior through MWC official subsupplier, another 70 thousand pounds to
    the official MWC event organizers for the customer event we want to stage with out customers + of course fees for food etc at these events, and all this we have to prepaid and now when GSMA MWC for natural reasons decideds to cancel the exhibtion, they and their official subsuppliers do not offer a single pound in return.

    Needless to say this is very very high investment for us every year and we do not understand that we are having to lining the pockets of the GSMA MWC if they cannot be fair and at least share the costs of refund like our hotel and travel Agency do.

    Also, very interesting since one year we tried not to be inside the MWC fair and not to have the booth because of the very expensive fee, but it was impossible to book a hotel conference room at the conference hotels in the vincinity of the MWC Exhibition in Barcelona if not booking this through MWC and its officla partners and if not also at the same time booking a booth at the MWC exhibtion. Yes, this is correct. If you want to organize customer meetings outside the MWC fair e.g. at a hotel close-by and have a conference room there , you still have to pay the high prices of the MWC minimum booth, which that year was something like +12 thousand pound + interior design etc. Everytime we contacted the hotels around MWC fair in Barcelona to rent some meeting room space, they said we have to book it through MWC official venue and event organizer and in order to book through them we also have to book a minimum booth inside the MWC fair even though we are not using it.

    Very disappointing that GSMS MWC have all us in the telecom business lining their pockets when the MWC used to be a place for the industry and the customers and supplierrs to come together.

    Yours sincerely,

    Robert Bernsward

    • Avatar Ivy 24/02/2020 @ 2:27 am

      Similar situation, the GSMA offical hotel agency, benetwork, said they’re not responsible if the MWC got cancelled so there’s no refund. It’s unreasonable to ask exhibitors to cover all the loss of this last-minite desicion of GSMA.

  5. Avatar Tarek Mohamed 19/02/2020 @ 9:27 pm

    If GSMA insists on non-refunding even if acceptable shares with it’s partners, I think this will be the end of the GSMA business.
    No any partners will participate in any of GSMA events in the future.

  6. Avatar Gabriel S 20/02/2020 @ 12:12 pm

    If GSMA does not refund us we will never go back to MWC

  7. Avatar Anonymous 20/02/2020 @ 8:18 pm

    The GSMA have now cancelled their WAS working group meeting due to take place in Cape Town in April. This time they didn’t wait to the last minute.

    Dear XXX,

    As many of you are no doubt aware, due to circumstances beyond its control following the coronavirus outbreak, the GSMA recently had to cancel MWC Barcelona 2020.

    For the same reasons, the GSMA in conjunction with the event host MTN GlobalConnect, has decided to postpone the April 2020 WAS meeting in Cape Town to the same venue in March 2021.

    The GSMA and MTN GlobalConnect know that this news will be of great disappointment to your organisation and to you personally, as you prepared to be part of the WAS event. Given the circumstances, we hope that you understand the necessity for the decisions that have been taken and look forward to meeting and working with you all at subsequent WAS events.

    Best regards,

    Alex Sinclair

    Alex Sinclair | CTO | GSMA

  8. Avatar Anonymous 20/02/2020 @ 8:24 pm

    Oh, but there is one huge difference. Although this was a GSMA event, MTN Connect were hosting it. Guess what, they gave all sponsors and exhibitors a choice:

    1) a full refund
    2) transfer of their booking to the same event that has been rescheduled for 1 year later

    That is how to treat your customers and partners when they participate in a not for profit event.

  9. Avatar Rupert 21/02/2020 @ 3:40 pm

    GSMA fired all their contract staff in their London office today, so they are certainly preparing for a financial pummeling in the coming months.

  10. Avatar vod kanockers 22/02/2020 @ 6:17 pm

    shit happens. when it does, the best win-win is for everybody to minimize losses and be fair about it. GSMA probably makes about $50 mil on this show so don’t me that just because they are non-profit they don’t have any money.

    As far as I am concerned, GSMA should cover its costs and refund what is left over. too bad about Barcelona losing money. It is not like it put out much up front. This risk is no different for a host city than a weather crisis, for example.

    The vendors did exactly the right thing. the liability of putting employees in a known dangerous position opens them up to a ton of law-suits. And, just because there were no know cases of the virus there, I would bet odds that had the show gone on, there would have been.

  11. Avatar Humberto Lourenco 28/02/2020 @ 12:12 pm

    Its a shame that MWC organization is spitting on the hand of the feeders.
    Lisbon also have good weather, good food and wine and is open to Carrie out this event.
    Lets move there.
    Please comment

  12. Avatar yzn 22/03/2020 @ 8:22 pm

    Maybe a massive class action suit would have force GSMA to refund the money. That’s highway robbery and they know it

  13. Avatar Igor Berlinskiy 25/03/2020 @ 1:57 am

    Hay every one
    Our company was also exhibitor on MWC 2020 and we planned 2 large Lab session on issue with presenting RaDoTech – personal health monitoring device. At one moment we got overlapping dates for events and contract not paid yet, we contacted GSMA and asked if we can go to 2021, as event for us was very important – we got very rude and straight forward reply: you must pay and no cancellations allowed or you will be banned from all GSMA events until you pay x2 of what you own us.
    Needles to say we have been shocked, yet being young company we been planing on being part of MWC family with project for years to come. So we went through and paid all bills for booth, flights and so on. And when THEY HAVE CANCELED we got also very rude reply – no refunds will be provided.
    1. I support offer and call for massive class action law suit
    2. I think we need to team up, startups and small companies, to have power to prevent future situations like that. It is crazy how big companies rip off smaller guys and startups for money that they earn so hard giving up often to much to bring companies to success. And all that fells down to some one puling the plug.

  14. Avatar ronald bookelmann 31/03/2020 @ 1:15 pm

    Does anybody know of participants who are taking (or concidering) further actions against GSMA?
    As a small company we are hugely affected by the loss of invested money and sales-opportunities.
    With other events we would participate, and which were canceled, we were offered the same spot & conditions at a later date, without any extra payments, as also was the case with our flights.
    Even if the GSMA does not have the cash now, which I doubt, they should have taken the loss and make up for it in upcoming events.
    I like to hear if anyone knows about others considering the same

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