IFA Berlin 2021: World's leading consumer electronics trade show canceled

Show sponsors cite the disappointing pace of key COVID-19 metrics, including uncertainties about global vaccination rollouts. But that's not stopping Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

When I first heard that major, real-world tech trade shows were coming starting as early as Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in late June. I didn't see how they could do it. In the United States, thanks to widespread Covid-19 vaccinations, life may return to something like normal, but it's a different story in much of Europe. So, it came as no surprise when IFA Berlin, the world's largest consumer and home electronics trade show, decided not to open its doors. 

An email from Messe Berlin and gfu Consumer & Home Electronics, IFA's sponsoring organizations, announced that "IFA 2021 will not take place in September."

Why? The reasons were simple enough. "Ultimately, several key global health metrics did not move as fast in the right direction as had been hoped for - from the rapid emergence of new COVID-19 variants, for example in South Asia, to continued uncertainties about the speed of the rollout of vaccination programs around the world."

Another factor was that the Messe Berlin exhibition halls were continuing to be used "to support the fight against COVID-19 by converting parts of its area into a vaccination center and an emergency hospital facility." 

While coronavirus infections continue to decline in Europe, Germany alone had 9,796 new cases in the most recent daily count. 

Martin Ecknig, Messe Berlin's CEO explained: 

"We did not take this decision lightly. IFA Berlin is arguably the most important event of the year for brands and retailers alike. IFA Berlin connects our industry with trade visitors, media, and real consumers like no other event. However, the health and safety of everybody have to be absolutely paramount. The efforts to contain this pandemic – from the roll-out of vaccination programs to the resumption of international travel - did not happen at the pace we had hoped for. Given these developments, this difficult and disappointing decision was inevitable."

That may have been the case with IFA, but another major global technology show set in Europe, MWC, still plans to go on. Even though major telecom companies such as Qualcomm. Ericsson, Google, IBM, Lenovo, Nokia, Oracle, Samsung, and Sony have all backed out of the in-person conference, MWC's sponsor GSMA insists the show will go on. 

In part, this may be because the Spanish government desperately wants tourists to return to the country.  The Spanish minister for industry, commerce, and tourism, Reyes Maroto, said "Spain expects to welcome around 45 million foreign tourists in 2021, just over half the number who came in 2019 before the pandemic struck. Spain and GSMA set up a special, permissive travel authorization for  MWC registrants. 

In any case, the European Union (EU) is expected to allow quarantine-free travel for vaccinated visitors to enter the EU. Approved vaccinations include all those from the US trio of vaccine makers: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. 

Me? I love Barcelona and Berlin, but even though I am vaccinated I wouldn't have gone. We're still not out of the woods yet. Talk to me later about trade shows towards the end of the year.

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