Cantillon: Web Summit may lose something by going outside Ireland

The loss of the conference to Dublin is substantial as the event generates an estimated €100 million

The Dublin Web Summit is no more. In 2016, the Web Summit will find a new home in Lisbon, a sunnier, apparently more attractive place for a tech conference that built itself in Ireland.

The news that the Web Summit is leaving Dublin will come as no surprise to anybody that has been following the saga in recent months. The dropping of the “Dublin” from the Web Summit’s name may have been an obvious clue.

Portugal has been actively courting the founders for some time, and hasn’t been hiding the fact either.

A few reasons have been bandied about for the loss of the conference. The problems with wifi connectivity at the RDS last year made the headlines after Cosgrave publicly expressed his frustration with the situation. The high cost of hotels around the conference dates – with some hotels apparently increasing their prices by 600 per cent – is another.

But this goes beyond wifi issues and hotel expenses, which could be easily replicated in any other city. Perhaps more at issue is the package of financial incentives that Lisbon offered – the Web Summit organisers haven’t commented on what arrangements have been made.

The reaction has been varied. A massive blow to Ireland’s reputation. A huge embarrassment. But will Dublin’s tech scene actually suffer? Undoubtedly, the loss of the conference will leave a gap in Dublin’s economy, with the Web Summit bringing in an estimated €100 million as attendees and delegates thronged through the streets.

Local startups may feel the pinch, as the Web Summit provided a platform where they could meet investors and gain access to international tech figures that would have been outside their reach.

However, it’s not exactly a death knell. The Web Summit isn’t solely responsible for making the tech scene in Dublin, so it’s doubtful its loss will break it either.

The Web Summit, on the other hand, may lose something by going outside the country. The Irish location gave it a unique identity that other conferences did not have. Come for the conference, stay for the craic. Its social scene was built on taking tech entrepreneurs on pub crawls and nights out, creating the impression that you could rub shoulders with the great elite of the global tech industry.

Will the Web Summit be able to keep its identity when it moves outside these shores? We’ll watch closely next year to find out.