MAGAZINE Coronavirus plunges Mipim into chaos

The fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak has played havoc with this year’s event and thrown the plans of those set to attend it into disarray, forcing a rethink of schedules for June.

It was all going so well.

In the build-up to this year’s Mipim, the show’s organisers were benefitting from having selected a theme that resonated with exhibitors and delegates – 'The Future is Human'.
Many were applauding the 2020 theme and crafting their corporate messages accordingly. Mipim was basking in the sun as it awaited 23,000 attendees eager to take advantage of this huge business meeting melting pot.

But it had not reckoned on the coronavirus spoiling everything.

The first major sign that things might go wrong was on Wednesday, 26 February, less than two weeks before the beginning of the trade show.

Cushman & Wakefield, a major exhibitor, had dozens of people attending. But it issued a press release stating it was pulling out. ‘The health and safety of our employees is our priority,’ it said.

String of cancellations
This turned out to be the first in an avalanche of property services firms similarly cancelling over the next two days, as well as property companies, law firms, and advisors.

First it was UK-based companies, then those from mainland Europe. Several Continental European investment firms including Italy’s Dea Capital Real Estate, Germany's Commerz Real, ECE and WealthCap, announced on Friday that they too had cancelled plans.

A spokesperson for Dea Capital, which is based in Milan, said: ‘Our intention is not to take part as most of our team is based in Milan (where a large part of the new coronavirus cases are located) and we fear that we would be blocked at the border.’

As the number of cancellations stacked up, so the pressure increased on Mipim to cancel the whole show. But to the incredulity of some, it steadfastly stuck to a mantra that while it respected the position of companies, the show would go on.

Journalists as well as those from the property industry or with links started to question the stance and vent their amazement. One of them, Alan Robert, tweeted: ‘Shocked as well by this decision, which does not appear to be driven by a huge concern for people’s health or at least for minimising risks of spreading a disease the WHO upgraded at the very high-risk level.’ 

The steadfast decision not to cancel Mipim was becoming a public relations disaster for the show’s organisers Reed Midem. But as with all major events, there were several sides to the story. While major property services firms were pulling out, there were smaller companies and public bodies insisting they would still go.
They were tweeting: ‘See you there!’

One owner of a small business, Lisa Ashurst, said. ‘I don’t have the commercial luxury of deciding not to go to Mipim. Unless it is officially cancelled, I won’t be changing any plans or events I’ve spent the last five months working on!’

Another SME owner, Anna Sabine, tweeted her position: ‘I don’t want to put my staff at risk of illness, although they are arguably at risk everywhere at the moment. The big firms can much more easily absorb the financial hit from no-attendance than smaller firms can.’

Legal implications
As well as the moral, health and emotional dilemmas, the legal implications were also coming to the fore. People were obsessively reading and re-reading Mipim 2020’s terms and conditions in the hope that a refund would happen should the event be cancelled.

That eventuality was looking more and more likely. By Saturday 29 March, the pressure intensified on Mipim as France banned all indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people to slow the spread of the epidemic. A day before, bringing matters very close to home, a woman from Cannes itself where the trade show is held had been taken to Nice hospital and had been tested positive with Covid-19. Up until that point, people were worried about the outbreak just over the border in Italy, but this was now someone in the same town.

Mipim was holding crisis meetings, and privately messages were coming out that the organisers really did not want to cancel. Yet people were speculating the decision would be taken out of its hands if the French government banned travel and issued advice and orders to French towns, cities and event organisers.

Event postponed
On Saturday, the show’s organisers eventually succumbed and set a new date for the show: 2- 5 June. ‘The wellbeing of our clients and staff is our priority,’ said Reed Midem chief executive Paul Zilk in a statement. ‘Given the evolving context, the best course of action is to postpone Mipim to June.’

‘This is not a decision we have taken lightly,’ Zilk added. ‘We believe these new dates will provide the international Mipim community with the opportunity to achieve their business objectives. We are grateful to our clients for their support and constructive input during this challenging period, and we look forward to talking with them in the coming days about Mipim in June.’

That statement provoked hastily arranged meetings from Monday morning onwards as firms met to discuss what their June commitments would be.

Some responded quickly by managing to re-book bars or restaurants. PB3C, for example, said on Monday that an event sponsored by law firm Greenberg Traurig and Commerz Real would take place at the same venue in Cannes on 1 June – a day before the official start just as it planned for March.

By Monday, criticism of Mipim seemed to be giving way to practical plans being put into action. For example, Godwin Developments of the UK, said: ‘Godwin will still be attending Mipim from June 2-5 in Cannes.’

UK architects, Geraghty Taylor, similarly said: ‘We are sorry to hear that Mipim has been postponed due to the coronavirus, but fully agree that safety must come first. We look forward to taking part in a rescheduled Mipim 2020 in June.’

Not everyone responded in good nature. For example, Francois Duchastel, tweeted: ‘Mipim in June might be better held in Barcelona – a real city which can easily absorb 20-25,000 visitors.’

It was also beginning to dawn on people that there might be a problem with the new dates. Organisers had picked days in June when they were already holding an event – Midem 20 for the music industry. On the one hand, the image of property folk mixing with those from the music industry in June sounds like an intriguing crossover and the weather would be better. On the other, hosting two events in the Palais des Festivals at the same time would surely place even more pressure on space, not only there but also at hotels, restaurants and bars before even factoring in tourists.

Kevin McGovern tweeted: ‘To be clear, the revised date of June 2nd for Mipim is alongside another music show called Midem with 5,000 already confirmed delegates!!!!! Madness. Same venue, same hotels, same restaurants. You couldn’t make it up.’

Nick Coombes, added: ‘So Mipim moved to June and they’re combining with the Midem music conference. This could be fun!’

Uncertainty reigns
But then at press time there was speculation the music event might be moved elsewhere in Cannes to accommodate Mipim or that it might even be stood down. 
There was also recognition that maybe the Mipim June event was not guaranteed to take place either. One could see from statements that there was a high degree of uncertainty.

For example, Lorraine Baggs, head of inward investment at Nottingham, a UK city, said the organisation looked forward to the rearranged date in June. But its brands and events partner, Associate Events, sounded a note of caution; managing director Alister de Ternant, said: ‘The French Authorities have also since placed a ban upon all events in the country with a capacity over 5,000 people for a “short” period of time. Their future position is also highly open to interpretation.’ He added: ‘Mipim 2020 may well still go ahead in June and we are planning in this vein. We are now liaising with all of our clients regarding postponement arrangements and, should the situation not resolve as quickly as it is hoped, a cancellation contingency. However, we hope in the interests of all parties concerned that this will be a temporary arrangement and we continue to maintain a positive outlook in the hope that Mipim will go ahead in June, as proposed.’

Whether the same theme would be in place has also been questioned. But there was no sign or indeed reason to change the topic, ‘The Future is Human’.

Phil Raitt, a communication specialist at logistics giant, Prologis is among those that had warmly received the theme before news of the rescheduling.

The Amsterdam-based professional noted that Prologis has already been implementing wellbeing strategies for many years, so when Mipim decided to organise a wellbeing masterclass as part of The Future is Human theme, it felt right to sponsor it.

‘We are happy to see this year’s theme,’ he said. ‘We take the time to really understand our customers’ needs and provide them with value well beyond the real estate. There are plenty of examples, whether that’s investing in the communities in and around our parks, providing jogging paths and nature trails or improvements to the sustainability and wellbeing of our facilities- we have been at the forefront of these trends.’

As the dust began to settle, there seemed to be pockets of people still planning to be in Cannes during Mipim week in March, regardless of the postponement. Some plans by property folk who own private villas seemed to have survived.

But, for the vast majority, plans were suspended and firms were trying to restore order amid the chaos. For them, this has been a rollercoaster of a ride and a gnarly end. 

Sarkozy and other acts in the balance
Mipim organisers have been left with the headache of re-booking star attendees or finding alternative ones.  Reed Midem had secured former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to inaugurate Mipim and provide a keynote address on Tuesday, 10 March. They had also booked Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to share his views on how technology integrates with real estate.



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