Why has the Web Summit pulled the plug on Dublin and packed its bags for Lisbon? Here are five reasons why the company may be leaving its birth city for warmer climes.
1. Infrastructure and facilities
Since it starting attracting bigger crowds, Web Summit organisers have repeatedly complained about a shortfall in infrastructure that Dublin has compared to other European capital cities.
It’s simply a scale issue: anyone who goes to large conferences knows how important efficient transport facilities and conference centres are. Shows such as CES in Las Vegas or Mobile World Congress in Barcelona depend on huge, flexible exhibition spaces served by rail or large-scale commercial vehicle transportation.
On this count, Dublin scores very poorly compared to most European countries. Aside from relatively inconsistent hotel stock and patchy traffic management, the venues struggle to compete with European rivals. The RDS, for example, is a patchwork of exhibition halls with badly congested traffic surrounding it. Once you get over a certain size, it’s not really an ideal location.
And Dublin’s Convention Centre? It’s simply too small for an event of this scale. At 22,000 attendees last year, the RDS felt cramped and poorly spaced out. With 30,000 coming this year, it could be worse.
The truth is that Lisbon has a convention centre and transport infrastructure that are miles ahead of Dublin’s facilities. The centre chosen by the Web Summit, Feira Internacional Lisboa, is enormous and is well served by city transportation. It has a metro station in the building.
Web Summit organisers insist that the move from Dublin to Lisbon is not primarily about money. Nevertheless, the company is a private business that needs to take its own funding into account. While the absolute amounts between competing governments are understood not to have been huge, Portugese authorities have upped the level of financial support from that received from the Irish government last year. (While organisers from the Web Summit and the Irish government have declined to comment on any offered funding, the company received €235,000 from Enterprise Ireland and the IDA to help pay for last year’s event.)
Portugal currently has a €450m fund called Portugal Ventures, a large chunk of which is reserved for growing and promoting its tech ecosystem (although this is understood to be separate from Web Summit funding from the Portuguese state).
Lisbon’s investment return from landing the Web Summit are clear: it gets to position itself as one of Europe’s new tech centres, a message reinforced by the Web Summit during its own year-long marketing activities.
The Web Summit already has decent revenue streams from places other than Dublin. The financial support that Northern Irish authorities gave it earlier this year for hosting two conferences there are understood to be greater than the cash offered by Dublin’s industrial authorities.
3. Why Lisbon?
Aside from the infrastructure and the money, Lisbon might have had a few things to attract the Web Summit organisers. Like Dublin, it’s seen as an out-of-the-way location, somewhere that most people in the tech world may not have been before but might like to try. It’s warm, inexpensive and there are lots of things to do there after-hours -- a key factor of the Web Summit’s appeal. (The conference doesn’t pay speakers: a large part of its pitch to them is an environment that’s not as frenetic as Silicon Valley. Elon Musk said that he came to Dublin’s event last year because he heard there was going to be “a great party”.)
4. The company’s long term view of itself
By moving away from Dublin, founders of the Web Summit may also hope to prove that the event doesn’t depend on Dublin to retain its success. Two years ago, the company is understood to have received a solid offer of €60m to buy it outright. If it can show that it is a standalone entity that isn’t indelibly tied to one location, and remain twice as big as it was in 2013, it will be worth far more.
5. Just for the challenge of it
It also may partially be down to the challenge of doing it. Putting on the first Web Summit was an audacious, slightly chaotic gamble that paid off. It may be that Paddy Cosgrave, Daire Hickey and David Kelly are looking for a new challenge.