Inside the Unofficial Mipim in 'ghost town' Cannes

Cannes was a virtual 'ghost town' this week at precisely the time when its famous Boulevard de la Croisette and nearby bars, cafes and restaurants would normally be heaving with thousands of property professionals during Europe's annual Mipim event. 

There were no pavilions on the beach hosting fringe events and no security guards outside them. The epicentre of Mipim, the modernist Palais des festivals et des Congres de Cannes - known colloquially as the Bunker - was deserted; the only sign of an event meant to happen was metal railings stacked up against the exterior wall redundant in the absence of delegates who would normally be queuing to gain entry. 

Where at this time of year there is usually a sea of people in business attire, this time the building and its precinct were deserted.

But not everybody stayed away. A small number of property professionals from the 23,000 originally expected to descend upon the idyllic Cote d’azur city, did make the trip for an ‘Unofficial Mipim’.

Gatherings were limited to a maximum of 1,000 by the French government on the Sunday before Mipim was due to begin. But this was hardly an issue for the 100 or so real estate professionals who gathered on Monday and Tuesday to spend the week here in the hopes of networking as best they could. Everyone was free to carry on as normal - in extraordinary circumstances.

They bucked the trend set by international companies who stayed away. 

This reporter found around 80 property professionals who professed that networking was top of the agenda, underpinned by a gritty determination to make the best of a bad situation.

This being 2020, a WhatsApp mobile app played a major role in coordinating meetings with members from the UK, Italy and France. The technology proved invaluable in linking people who sailed in by boat, caught trains, or flew into nearby Nice on board nearly empty flights. 

With demand for accommodation in Cannes a shadow of normality there were bargains to be had. One delegate at Unofficial Mipim said he managed to book a room in the Carlton for £200 (€224) instead of up to the usual £1,000. 

One delegate said Unofficial Mipim was about ‘putting your best foot forward’. No doubt it helped that doing this involved hanging out at scenic restaurants and bars, such as Le Caveau restaurant, Cave Croisette and Caffé Roma, while soaking up the sunshine and enjoying French cuisine. In the evenings, it was locations such as New-York New-York and Cristal bar, where people gathered to summon up their own mini version of Mipim's famous conviviality.

Meanwhile, some attendees provided a dash of the glamour that was missing in Cannes this week. A convoy of high-performance cars arrived in town on Tuesday, parking in front of the Carlton Hotel. They were among 12 vehicles which took part in MIP-OFF, a charity rally event beginning in the UK and arriving in Cannes, via Monaco. Sponsored by Red Brick real estate brokers and others, it was in aid of BuildAid, an organisation which erects buildings in the developing world. Organisers hosted an auction in Monaco on Monday night and were hopeful of raising up to £30,000, despite the chaos which Covid-19 wreaked upon plans that took six months to make.

Among those who did attend, financial considerations played a major role in the decision. Many professionals represented small and medium-sized companies in the construction, IT and legal sectors, for whom cancelling hotel and flight bookings at short notice would have been a sizeable financial loss. It seems a calculation was made: write off a significant investment, or take a chance and try to make the most of it?

In truth, there were few regrets on display among those who took the decision to come. The icing on the cake was a farewell party on Thursday. 'What an amazing night' said one delegate amid thanks to all those fellow Unofficial Mipim-goers who had made it special. There is already talk of a reunion. It seems this Unofficial Mipim has helped forge new relationships.  

For all the effort to ‘keep calm and carry on’ by enjoying Cannes this year, the contrast with 'business as usual' was stark and undeniable, particularly in the harbour. Lines of big yachts bobbed quietly at anchor, when usually these would be hives of activity.

Unfortunately, for businesses which serve the huge influx of demand which Mipim generates, the impact of coronavirus has been significant. Taxi drivers who normally make up to 20 trips a day between Nice airport and Cannes, had only one or two customers this year. One driver said he made €18,000 from Mipim in 2019, but expected to make only a tiny fraction of that this time. Local media have been trying to estimate the cost of Mipim being postponed to the local economy. The figure runs into the millions.

An event organiser PropertyEU spoke with said their business derives 25% of its annual revenue from Mipim. It specialises in arranging accommodation, private events and hotel transfers – exactly the services for which demand collapsed with postponement of the event. ‘Cannes is a ghost town, to be honest,’ she said.

After Unofficial Mipim, thoughts now turn toward June 2-5, when the official Mipim has been rescheduled to take place. In Cannes this week, opinion was divided about whether the risk posed by coronavirus will have diminished sufficiently by then for the event to take place. 

But for the moment, their thoughts are mainly how happy they feel to have been here.

See the upcoming issue of PropertyEU for a full report on this year’s Unofficial Mipim.


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