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Mobile-Phone Leaders Boost Battered Barcelona With $400 Million

Mobile-Phone Leaders Boost Battered Barcelona $400 Million
A sign hangs at the entrance to the 2012 Mobile World Congress exhibition site in Barcelona. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Restaurant owner Bernardo Van der Vyver is thrilled by the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city. And he isn’t a techie.

At Ben cafe, which offers a menu of 18 dishes about 200 meters (660 feet) from the Fira conference center, Van der Vyver said he had to hire extra waiters as sales doubled in the past four days. He is just one example of those who stand to gain from the more than 300 million euros ($400 million) in revenue the city receives from the event, according to its organizer.

“This week has been fantastic for my business,” said Van der Vyver, 41, who also serves food inside the Fira. “I’ve seen an increasing number of customers since the Mobile came to Barcelona six years ago. This has been a good one, and I want the next one to be even better.”

Barcelona, which ranks behind Madrid by population, is the capital of Catalonia, a region whose budget deficit has reached 4.28 percent of its gross domestic product. That’s the third-biggest behind Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia. Earlier this week, its government approved a plan to cut the wages of more than 200,000 workers in the public sector by 3 percent this year to save 180 million euros, said Marta Vilalta, a spokeswoman.

Traffic Jam

Further reductions in education and health care led to demonstrations during the four-day Mobile World Congress, clogging traffic and forcing the organizer to shut down one of the main entrances in the evening of Feb. 29.

From restaurants and hotels to taxi service, Barcelona’s local businesses said the event offered relief in the continuing debt crisis and high unemployment as more than 67,000 visitors came to the city for the show, including 3,500 chief executive officers, according to a statement from GSMA, the industry group of almost 800 mobile operators including Telefonica SA, AT&T Inc. and China Mobile Ltd.

David Salazar, a cab driver in Barcelona, said the congress allowed him to make 50 percent more in sales than a regular day even as more visitors took public transportation this year because of the protests. Thousands of youngsters rallied in Barcelona streets protesting austerity measures.

“Thanks to events like this one, we can make up for declining revenues as people take fewer cab rides,” Salazar said.

Qualcomm, Gemalto

The Mobile World Congress provides a stage for technology companies to show some of the most innovative products, meet customers and sign business partnerships, said Sy Choudhury, director of product management at San Diego, California-based Qualcomm Inc., who attends the trade fair every year.

“We showcase all the greatest technologies and it’s also an easy way for us and partners not only to meet with executives and key product management folks but also to see the demos,” Choudhury said at Qualcomm’s stand. “And of course, we also want to impress consumers, the press and analysts.”

Samir Khlif, vice president of subscriptions management at smartcard maker Gemalto NV, said he came to Barcelona along with other 100 executives and employees of the company from around the world including Chief Executive Officer Olivier Piou.

“This is the event to be if you are in the telecoms industry because it’s worldwide and you have all technologies, from NFC to machine-to-machine and cloud computing, in just one place,” Khlif said, referring to the short-range wireless standard called near field communications.

Soaring Unemployment

More than 6,000 temporary jobs were created during the congress, said Estefania Redondo, a spokeswoman for the city mayor’s office. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union at 23 percent, with almost half of youngsters without jobs.

Barcelona resident Pol Amat, 19, said he got a contract for five days, and worked 12 hours a day checking badges at the site’s entrance. He’s earned 450 euros, he said.

“We work hard, but you can’t say no amid the current crisis,” said Amat, who is studying for a degree in tourism. “Besides, I get to meet people from all over the world, which is very cool.”

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