Wednesday 21 March 2018

Revealed: Dublin's loss as Lisbon pays just €1.3m a year to host Web Summit

Hollywood actress Eva Longoria at the Web Summit at the RDS.
Hollywood actress Eva Longoria at the Web Summit at the RDS.
Paddy Cosgrave...06/11/14 Paddy Cosgrave pictured at the Web Summit at the RDS, Dublin this morningÉ Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Hollywood actress Eva Longoria speaking to Jemima Khan at the Web Summit at the RDS.
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Portugal's government is to pay just €1.3m per year to Ireland's Web Summit organisers to move Europe's largest web technology conference from Dublin to Lisbon.

The modest bursary will prompt new questions on why Ireland's most successful technology event is moving out of the country with an estimated loss to the local economy of €100m.

According to the conference's organisers, the company is moving its event to Portugal next year because of the difference in infrastructure quality rather than for a better financial subsidy.

A lack of hotels, transportation and suitable venues in Dublin have been the subject of complaints by company chief executive Paddy Cosgrave.

"We need a new home for future growth at Web Summit," said Mr Cosgrave.

Read more: It's not you, it's us: why Web Summit ditched Dublin for modern Lisbon

"Lisbon has the infrastructure and that is why we are making the move. We think it's the right one for our attendee experience."

Company founders' disillusionment with Dublin's infrastructure means that the conference is unlikely to return to Ireland in its present form in the near future.

The Web Summit is to be located in Lisbon "for the next few years", according to Portugal's deputy prime minister, Paulo Portas.

"I think the authorities will look at the question of how they need to improve facilities for other events on other occasions," said Taoiseach Enda Kenny, responding to the news.

The Web Summit's flight, which will not affect this year's conference, is likely to damage Dublin's reputation as an international tech conference centre. Ireland's industrial policy makers, which paid the Web Summit €235,000 in subsidies last year, have used the event in recent years as a reference point for foreign tech firms seeking to establish a European base here.

But organisers of the conference, which expects to see 30,000 attendees at Dublin's RDS in November, have been considering a move away from Ireland for some time.

Despite prior criticism of poor traffic management and other infrastructural issues, Mr Cosgrave said that the move to Lisbon is being undertaken for "positive" reasons.

"We're excited to move but also saddened about leaving Dublin," he said. "It's a massive decision for us. We spent an enormous of time considering it carefully."

Rival bids from the Netherlands and the UK were also understood to have been made to attract the Web Summit next year.

Mr Cosgrave did not say whether the company will hold any other events in Ireland next year. Earlier this year, Web Summit held two conferences in Belfast called EnterConf and MoneyConf.

However, he said that the company will remain based in Dublin, where it now employs 130 people.

"That is not going to change," he said. "We remain an Irish company. We will always be grateful for the support and encouragement we received from Dublin."

The company was previously the subject of a €60m bid in 2013 from an unnamed organisation.

Read more: Web Summit loss could be a 'fatal' blow for business

Co-founders Paddy Cosgrave, Daire Hickey and David Kelly have expanded the company's events roster this year to include conferences in Las Vegas, Hong Kong and Belfast, while events in New Orleans and India are scheduled for 2016.

Organisers say November's three-day conference in Dublin's RDS will have over 2,000 startups, 1,000 investors and 650 speakers.

"My co-founders and I started Web Summit five years ago and it has grown beyond what I had thought possible," said Mr Cosgrave.

"We are proud of the fact that we have become an important pillar of the global startup ecosystem and that 90pc of our attendees come from abroad."

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