Feature

Geared for Regrowth

Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, is infamous for its art and architecture, which spans back 2,000 years and counts nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites. With its cobblestoned Gothic Quarter, 14th century cathedrals, Modernist masterpieces by big names like Gaudí, and museums dedicated to Picasso and Miró—not to mention the Mediterranean seaside locale and Catalan cuisine—it’s no wonder Barcelona is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations, as well as one of the top international congress destinations in Europe.

Words Lane Nieset

At the M&IT Awards 2021, the Barcelona Convention Bureau (BCB) received the Bronze award in the category “Best Overseas Convention Bureau,” and, according to ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association), Barcelona was the fourth city in the world for organizing international congresses in 2019. With more than 200 congresses a year, Barcelona is the city with the largest number of participants worldwide, revealing an undeniable attractiveness which extends to other industries and sectors. You can easily understand why the Financial Times identified Catalonia as the best region in southern Europe for foreign investment in 2020-2021.

Smart solutions

Barcelona is a leader in information and communication technologies (ICT), and a centre in Europe for mobile apps, the Internet of things (IoT), e-commerce, videogames, and big data. The city sports seven major science and technology infrastructures, including the MareNostrum and Minotauro supercomputers at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center – National Centre for Supercomputing (BSC-CNS) and the University of Barcelona Electron Microscopy Unit Applied to Materials (ELECMI), as well as eight universities, 31 research centres, and nine science academics and professional associations.

Barcelona is also receiving well-deserved recognition for its sustainable technology and innovative spirit. As the biomedical research, R&D, and 5G hub for southern Europe, Barcelona was ranked third smart city in the world by Glasgow University and fourth-most innovative city in Europe on the Innovation Cities Index 2019. The world mobile capital offers a state-of-the-art network of infrastructures, which includes free Wi-Fi hotspots in all districts and an extensive fibre optic network, and continues to embrace new digital challenges with a future-forward approach, thanks to its rapidly growing technology sector and hubs.

Placing the well-being, economic prosperity, and safety of the community at the forefront, the local technology centre is committed to providing sustainable solutions in terms of healthcare, climate change, leadership in technology, gender equality, and the preservation of science and technology.

Startup society

Hosting, an enviable international diversity of tech pioneers, Barcelona ranks among the top six European startup hubs, and since 2017 it is the third preferred city in Europe for entrepreneurs to create their startups. In this scenario, Tech Barcelona, the private nonprofit association that supports and catalyzes Barcelona’s digital and tech ecosystem, promotes the Urban Tech Campus, a network of singular buildings (Pier01, by the sea, is its cornerstone) to embed innovation and technology within the city while also involving its citizens. 

As the tech capital of the Mediterranean, Barcelona’s ICT sector accounts for 60,000 jobs and represents 4% of the city’s business network. With 1,469 startups (64% of which are in 4.0 technologies like ICT, leisure, and health), the city is considered third-best for startups in Europe (according to StartUp Heatmap Europe) and continues to generate and attract talent. Case in point: 22@Barcelona, a technology district set on more than 200 hectares of former industrial sites than now features 1,500 companies revolving around media, IT, energy, design, and scientific research. 

Here, the knowledge cluster is formed by new companies housed in old factories and Modernista-inspired industrial complexes. For example, the old textile mill Ca l’Aranyó now opens up to the Pompeu Fabra University’s Communication Campus, and the fabric warehouse Can Munné has been converted into the Bau design school. Architects like Jean Nouvel and Enric Ruiz-Geli have also designed contemporary architecture that have earned awards for energy efficiency, sustainability, and design, in addition to becoming city icons.

A few of the main goals of Barcelona Smart City include promoting the digital transformation of society and the business community by brining manufacturing sectors the latest digital solutions with the help of the innovative industries and institutions in the city, as well as conferences like the MWC Barcelona, which takes place 28 February-3 March 2022. The world’s leading mobile communications event brings together more than 1,000 expert speakers and 70,000 delegates. At the core of the conference, startup platform 4YFN (4 Years From Now) includes startups from around the world and focuses on topics like accelerating innovation through digital entrepreneurship and transforming industries through digital technology. Another example is Integrated Systems Europe (ISE), the world’s leading AV and systems integration exhibition, which will take place in Barcelona in May.

Post-pandemic planning

As a way to reactivate the city’s economy post-pandemic and attract new congresses, Barcelona City Council has made a 3€-million financial contribution toward the new Barcelona MICE Destination Support Programme. The initiative will assist congresses and events that align with the city’s strategic economic sectors: digital, creative, local economy, industry 4.0, life sciences, green and circular economy, commerce, and logistics. 

In non-pandemic years, tourism in the MICE sector accounts for 19.7% of the number of tourists the city receives, and in 2020, that number dipped down to 11.8%. With the tourism meetings sector being one with the most significant economic impact on the city, the programme aims to relaunch the city as a tourism leader in the events industry by prioritizing congresses that bring together more than 500 people and involve overnight stays, in addition to those slated for 2022 that can help herald the message of the importance of face-to-face activity. 

In addition to events already on the calendar, Barcelona Convention Bureau, which just launched Check Barcelona, a new app designed to improve the visitor-flow management, is working on candidatures for 90 new congresses over the next few years—40% of which are in the medical-scientific sector, and 15% in ICT. More than 150 congresses have already been confirmed for the coming years, and 100 applications are open until 2027. 

Contact: bcb@barcelonaturisme.com / www.barcelonaconventionbureau.com

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