1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Web Summit returns to Lisbon

Jochen Faget
November 1, 2021

Web Summit was one of several major global exhibition events that was forced online in 2020 due to the pandemic. It returns to Lisbon this week, albeit with strict rules for attendees.

Web Summit 2020
Web Summit 2020 was an online-only eventImage: Pedro Fiuza/Zuma/picture alliance

Web Summit is back after a two-year pandemic-enforced hiatus. Organizer Paddy Cosgrave expects 40,000 visitors to come to the Lisbon Exhibition Center from November 1-4, down from 70,000 in 2019. Last year, the event — a networking gala for the tech world took place online. This year, it returns to its real-world form, albeit with strict 3G rules set by the Portuguese health authorities.

Cosgrave told DW that the organizers reached an agreement with Portuguese authorities on rules for the event. Only those who are either fully vaccinated, recovered from coronavirus or have tested negative can be admitted. Masks must be worn, and people are asked to keep their distance from one another outdoors.

As well as its daytime seminars and conferences, Web Summit is known for its "Night Summit" socializing events. However, the pandemic has forced big changes to that side of things this year.

"Our approach to Night Summit is radically different this year, on the advice given to us by the health authorities," Cosgrave told DW. "Traditionally we would organize very large indoor events with upwards of 5,000 people in an environment where they are very close to each other. Instead, we have decided to distribute Night Summit across more than 100 venues each night that are very small."

A packed agenda

Despite the complicated logistics, Cosgrave is happy to see the event return to its traditional in-person setting, a world away from last year's online-only version.

"If I had a choice between an online conference and an offline conference I would always choose an offline conference," Cosgrave said. "I don't believe that online conferences allow you to build the quality of connections. You can certainly achieve the same quantity if not more. But those connections are not as significant as meeting someone for coffee, or for dinner."

Web Summit in  Lissabon
Web Summit is taking place in Lisbon, in person, once againImage: Jochen Faget

There are lots of big names attending. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will speak on the opening night on Monday, followed by Tim Berners-Lee, the "father of the internet," on Thursday. In between, various bosses from Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook will take the stages. Movements such as Black Lives Matter or Until Freedom will also be formally represented.

Such a large event begs plenty of environmental questions but Cosgrave points out that UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry, awarded Web Summit its sustainability award for 2021. Web Summit has now banned all plastic from the event and aspires for it to be as close to carbon-neutral as possible.

With COP26 taking place at the same time as Web Summit, climate change is a major focus this year. Other big items on the agenda include digital security and cryptocurrencies, as well as international tax justice.

Meanwhile, Germany is strongly represented this year. For the first time, there will be a separate German section in which 25 companies, as well as the Ministry of Economic Affairs, will be represented. "Germany is close to the largest participant both in terms of pure number of companies and attendees," said Cosgrave. "Then at a government level there is quite a significant trade mission."

Portugal cashes in

For host country Portugal, Web Summit is lucrative. The government subsidizes the event to the tune of €11 million ($12.7 million) each year and reckons it gains an economic boost of €300 million in return through hotel and restaurant income, company startups that happen as a result of hosting the event and through the 250 Web Summit jobs in Portugal.

Pedro Siza Vieira, Portugal's minister of economy and digital transition, has no doubt about the benefits.

"The fact that the Web Summit is taking place again in Lisbon after last year's online event is excellent news for our economy and our country," he said.

The country's capital is certainly set for a wave of networking in the coming days, albeit against the backdrop of the not-yet-gone pandemic. In several European countries, case numbers have been rising recently.