Irish tech and telecoms companies are set lose millions of euro from the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress trade fair in Barcelona as the economic fallout from coronavirus races ahead of the outbreak itself.
The giant Barcelona event was due to host 100,000 telecoms-focused visitors from all over the world at the end of the month, but was called off this week after dozens of major exhibitors pulled out due to fears of coronavirus exposure from Chinese attendees.
As well as losing out on deal-making opportunities, Irish exhibitors who have booked space at the event may not get refunds.
"Given this is a force majeure situation, no refunds will be provided under clause 21.10 of our standard terms and conditions for exhibition, advertising and sponsorship," exhibitors have been informed by the GSMA, which runs the Mobile World Congress.
Exhibition costs at the Mobile World Congress vary widely, from €10,000 for small booths to millions for giant pavilions. "Ours cost over €100,000 in space and stand fees," one Irish exhibitor said. "We've been told we're not getting a refund."
The largest single Irish exhibitor is thought to be Enterprise Ireland, which had confirmed a large stand to host 12 Irish companies.
A spokesman declined to confirm the cost, but Mobile World Conference is one of the state agency's biggest single budgetary events of the year.
"Enterprise Ireland is currently assessing the financial implications of the GSMA decision and is in contact with both the organisers and its insurance brokers regarding redress and refund options," the spokesman said.
However, the state body may have an uphill battle on its hands, if it is depending on access to the organisers' insurance.
Although the conference has insurance in place, the terms and conditions give the body a potential escape route from paying out for a cancelled event if it is related to "any fear or threat, [in] connection with any communicable disease". This applies, the policy says, whether that threat is "actual or perceived".
Separately, Rise, a web summit conference due to be held in March in Hong Kong, was cancelled before Christmas for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus.
Factory closures in China caused by the outbreak are straining global manufacturing supply chains, while in Ireland the exported services are seeing disruption. IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva yesterday called on governments and central banks to work on a response to the outbreak once the impact becomes clear.