Tuesday June 2, 2020

Emmet Ryan: The Web Summit is never coming back to Dublin

After the move to Lisbon, Ireland needs to accept the event is never coming home

Emmet Ryan

Technology Correspondent

10th November, 2016
The Web Summit's Night Summit in Lisbon. Pic: Web Summit

It’s got nothing to do with politics and transport infrastructure isn’t even that big a factor. The one reason the Web Summit will never come home is because there is nowhere in Dublin capable of handling its growth.

On the ground the feeling amongst locals in Lisbon is warmth and excitement. The regular folks on the street are legitimately excited to have the event here and the FIL arena is a huge asset for keeping it here.

With an announced attendance in excess of 53,000, although that number could be massaged somewhat, this is a gig at a level that no indoor venue in Ireland is capable of handling. Bodies are the one thing Dublin can’t handle. There are however far more direct flights from the US to Dublin.

The transport situation here in Lisbon is arguably a plus too. The underground metro system and sheer number of taxis makes it easier for attendees to get around the city.

For all the bluster over what Paddy Cosgrave wanted last year, the final incentives from the government in Portugal, and the contentious relationship the event occasionally had with Dublin, it’s the venue that gives Lisbon the edge here.

Three pavilions of a serious size host the businesses looking to grab the attention of attendees, while the main stage is in a 15,000 seater arena.

It’s not all sunshine and roses. The views of those here regarding wifi and queues are naturally mixed, but there’s an overwhelming positivity to the reaction to the event. That’s not just coming from the locals; many of the Irish and international business people here have spoken positively of the experience here. Their views will be fleshed out in Sunday’s coverage, but the real competition for hosting in a few years won’t come from Ireland.

Venues like Fira Gran Via in Barcelona, home to Mobile World Congress and capable of holding crowds close to 100,000, will almost certainly be in the conversation when Cosgrave and his cohorts in Dartry think about future plans.

For Dublin, the question is what next? The debate over conference centre size is lengthy, interesting to nerds like me yet dull to the public at large, and irrelevant in the short term. The city has to make do with what it has got for now, which puts the pressure on seeing what it can do in terms of hosting major tech conferences.

Ireland does well, really well, in the small and mid-size conference market. This own house’s conference business alone points to that. Once you get past that 25,000 attendee point, however, most of our venues creak at the seams. Naturally the Ploughing Championships is an absolute monster in terms of scale but that outdoor feel is limited in terms of options and isn’t realistic for the capital.

Instead, sub-sectoral focus within tech seems the logical place. Working with the Web Summit on a software as a service (Saas) focused event would make a heap of sense for the city. There’s a strong Saas start-up scene in Ireland and plenty of big multinational players too. It won’t necessarily draw the same prestige but it will be something that gets bodies to the city. That’s what the pubs and hotels like and it’s what taxi drivers love.

It wouldn’t be the same but we need to stop thinking about replicating what we had. The Web Summit is gone, the lads have found a bigger venue and for the next while they will only be looking for even bigger homes. Ireland, and Dublin in particular, needs to think about what we do instead. The likes of One-Zero last month recognises that need to be different. Innovation, a dreadfully over-used word, is what’s needed. Get an idea together, find the right people to partner with, and dive right in.

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