Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave has announced an ambitious plan to expand the tech conference to multiple new locations despite uncertainty over Covid-19.
The pandemic has seen many conferences and events cancelled or moved entirely online, with the plug pulled on numerous global events such as Mobile World Congress and many others.
However, with virtual events allowing for higher numbers of attendees to participate from their own homes, many are now asking whether a full return to in-person events is on the cards, or whether organisers will favour a digital-first or a hybrid approach.
Speaking virtually at Web Summit 2020, which this year was attended by individuals from 170 countries, Cosgrave announced that the company plans to return to a physical event held in Lisbon in 2021, with plans for events in other cities in the following years.
“We’re delighted to be able to launch the first web summit at-scale event in 2022 in partnership with the government of Japan and the Tokyo Metropolitan government as well. It’s part of an overall program that hopefully by 2023 we will have web summits in the run-up to Web Summit in November every year around the world.”
He also outlined plans to expand Web Summit’s Lisbon event to accommodate more attendees:
“In 2022, the venue in Lisbon will double in size, the capacity will increase to about 143,000 and my expectation is most of those additional attendees that will come from markets that I think there’s still a huge amount of space for growth. We already have 5,000 plus attendees for each of the major European economies and I think we’re only at an early point in the journey in places like Japan and hopefully in South America.”
Web Summit heads to South America
Cosgrave announced plans for a Web Summit event held in South America in 2022, with events in Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre in Brazil. He added that the company hopes to launch events in Africa and the Middle East in 2023.
Web Summit’s Asian event, RISE, will also be relocated to Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia:
“Rise is moving from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in March 2022. We had thought about running an event potentially in March 2021, which would in effective three-months time, but we felt that given the current uncertainty around the pandemic that whilst we might get close to being able to run an event, it was probably not the best decision and decided actually the best decision would be to wait out until 2022.”
The expansion of Web Summit’s in-person events may come as a surprise considering the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the growth of digital events, but Cosgrave predicted there will be “a great future for hybrid events”.
Cosgrave said that organisers of large-scale events such as Web Summit have faced “immense challenges” in 2020:
“The pandemic obviously posed immense challenges I think for any large event organiser, in fact, all event organisers, but to take large events as an example, every large technology conference in the world above a certain threshold has been cancelled this year entirely and we can go back to the start of the year in March there were some huge cancellations right through to Q4. I think the lack of software to power some of these huge events is the limiting factor, but there’s absolutely a desire by all these organisers to run events.”
He explained that the company had spent the past nine months building its platform for Web Summit 2020, with plans to offer the platform to large event organisers for free for them to run their own events.
Cosgrave revealed that there were times the company doubted that Web Summit 2020 could go ahead due to the technical challenges of putting on a virtual event at scale:
“Unexpectedly needing to go entirely remote, which we did on March 2nd or third of this year was a huge challenge and of course, there were times where we wondered could we really build software at the scale of web summit to be able to deliver web summit. It’s taken a huge investment of time, effort and everything else in between. There were moments where we doubted that we could support the scale and complexity of Web Summit but we managed.”