Heading to Mobile World Congress for the first time?
I’m just back from my first MWC and here’s 10 quick tips that I learned along the way that might make your trip a bit easier, cheaper and fun.
1) There’s Two Locations.
So this may be obvious to some but it was not clear to me. The convention takes place in two locations with similar names that are a few kilometers (over a mile) apart.
Montjuic or Fria Montjuic is the original location for the entire show but today mainly houses secondary affiliated conferences such a Mobile Media Summit. It is conveniently located across from the major Espanya subway stop.
The main show is now located further west in the new Gran Via or Fria Bran via location, a much larger more modern convention center made up of nice separate halls 1-8 and hall 8.1.
You will want to pay close attention to which events and sessions you are planning to attend and understand the distance and time needed to get between the two.
Layout of the nine halls at Fira Grand Via
2) Bring your ID!
At most conferences if you have a badge on you are good to go. Some, like SXSW, will add your photo making it a bit of a barrier on transferring badges. At MWC you go through several layers of check points including verifying your passport or driver’s license matches your badge.
Without both an ID and your valid badge you’re not getting very far.
3) Don’t stay near the convention center.
There are some terrific hotels near Gran Via but you will be in a rather bland corporate business park setting versus the vibrant city of Barcelona. Sure it may be convenient after a long day working the floor, but all of the best parties and dinners are not going to be anywhere near these properties.
Better to be in Barcelona central and experience this amazing city vs. staying in what looks a bit like anyplace USA.
Pro tip – I heard from a number of people that their AirBNB experience was excellent. All had great friendly hosts and some rooms were going for as little as $50 Euro a night. That’s a steal!
4) Skip the cabs (and their lines)… the subway is the way.
The taxis are plentiful and clean with very pleasant drivers, however, the subway service is exceptional. Both cheaper and often faster than a cab it does mean a long 200 meter walk but it really is a more efficient way to get back and forth to both Gran Via and Montjuic in addition to all over town.
Note, Gran Via requires a transfer at the Espanya Station to a different train line but your subway ticket will be accepted. There are super helpful guides in the stations specifically for MWC to answer questions and point you in the right direction.
5) Halls 1, 2 and 3 are pretty much worthless.
Why would the first three halls that you enter be worthless? Sounds strange.
It’s because these initial halls are almost entirely private tradeshows within the tradeshow (but not completely). The big boys build out their own walled off sections, some the size of a city block, and entry is by invitation only. If you don’t have scheduled meetings or access through your contacts move directly to Hall 4 and beyond to see the general population accessible displays and booths.
6) Head to the 2nd floor to move between halls.
There are nine separate very large halls all filled to the gills with displays and people. The bulk of the content takes place in Hall 4.
The first day at the exhibition I was fighting dense crowds and the maze of booths to get from one hall to the next on my way to meetings and sessions. On day 2, however, I went up the escalators to see what the exhibits looked like on that floor. Low and behold there were no booths but instead I found a wide express bridge with moving walkways that connected all the halls.
This is definitely the way to navigate quickly especially if you need to go from the entrance to the rear halls in a hurry.
The view from the 2nd floor walkway onto one of the many exhibits halls at Fira Gran Via
7) It’s pretty much over Wednesday night.
The official agenda and trade show may go through Thursday but things looked to wrap up with the big Wednesday dinners and parties. By Thursday morning the show floor is very light and many exhibitors have a skeleton junior crew or have already packed up and left. After almost a non-stop week everyone is pretty beat.
8) Madrid is a viable (and possibly cheaper) gateway.
From airfare to hotels, rates are steep for MWC and if you happen to be booking late the sticker shock is real.
When I could not find airfares at an affordable rate into Barcelona I looked into checking prices via Madrid. In addition to more flight options and much lower fares I actually found it to be both enjoyable as well as a money saver. My airline ticket was easily $1,000 less than the going rates into Barcelona and my hotel in Madrid about 30% of what I would have paid for that night in Barcelona as well. The high speed and very scenic 2.5 hour train ride cost about $100.
So I was able to experience Madrid, see some beautiful Spanish scenery including the spectacular Mossert Mountains and save well over $1500 too by using Madrid as my gateway to MWC. Not bad.
9) Barcelona is everything they say it is – so experience it.
You’ve heard people rave about Barcelona and they are right. It’s a beautiful vibrant city with extremely friendly and helpful people. The city is very walkable and safe although do be mindful of pickpockets in the most popular tourist zones. Getting around by subway is simple.
No matter how busy you may be at work or home carve out some extra time to explore and enjoy the city.
10) Book early, March 2015 will be here sooner than you think.
As CES does to Vegas and SXSW to Austin, MWC stretches Barcelona’s capacity to the limits. The dates for 2015 are March 2 – 5, a little later than 2014. Some people may wait for last minute cancellations but they did not materialize this year as mobile becomes the true center of the new consumer universe. Demand will only be going up for the foreseeable future so don’t miss out – jump on your registration, lodging and flights early!