Caveat: Web Summit – different city, same old expense

Event moved due to high room rates in Dublin but Portuguese prices look similar


Last September, Paddy Cosgrave announced he was moving the Web Summit to Lisbon, citing Dublin hotel rip-offs and other infrastructural problems. It sparked a war of words with local hoteliers and a torrent of bawling from the Irish tech scene. But isn’t the sky still where it was, and didn’t everyone soon get over it just fine?

The Portuguese capital is now giddily gearing up for the city’s first summit, which takes place over four days from November 7th. Cosgrave was this week interviewed by Exame, a Portuguese business monthly, which ran a special series of articles: “How to Take Advantage of the Web Summit”.

As befitting a super-busy tech chap, Cosgrave conducted his interview over email. His answers were mostly platitudinal banalities such as the importance of downloading the summit’s app, making sure to network properly and extolling the positive impact the event will have on the city of Lisbon and its technology scene.

He also revealed, however, that when the interview was conducted three months out from the summit, he had already sold 34,000 tickets to the event. According to the Web Summit’s website, that is the same as the number who squeezed in to the final Dublin summit in 2015.

That number should rise fast beyond 34,000 as the event approaches, even as the standard ticket prices (about €629) are hiked repeatedly for later buyers. The more gilded admission tickets, providing access to the speaker’s lounge, are €4,700, similar to the prices in Dublin last year. You’d nearly want a kiss from an angel or a unicorn for that price.

When the Web Summit announced its move to Lisbon, it highlighted that the capacity of the Feire Internacional de Lisboa, its home for the next three years, is more than 80,000 delegates. There was a clear commercial incentive for Cosgrave to pack his bags – he could easily double the scale of the show and, presumably, super-size its revenues.

Summit influence

It seems the Portuguese are planning for about 55,000 visitors for the first summit this November. That was the expected number referenced by João Vasconcelos, the leftist politician and Portugal’s secretary of state for industry, who wrote an opinion piece for Exame that runs alongside Cosgrave’s interview.

Vasconcelos wrote that it is expecting visitors from 150 countries, including “5,000 delegates from the US and more than 500 from India”.

The former Lisbon start-ups czar also spoke of a burgeoning “generation web summit” in Portugal. He said there would be a “before and after” for the country’s technology industry arising from the influence of the summit. Cosgrave has certainly sold it well to the local authorities.

What about the thorny issue of hotel costs, which Cosgrave fingered as one of the critical factors that pushed him to move the event from Dublin?

The Irish Hotels Federation last year angrily rejected the suggestion that its members were price gouging Web Summit delegates. Are their Portuguese counterparts more scrupulous?

Rates tripled

The cost of Lisbon hotel rooms for sale through the Web Summit website over the course of the event range from €150 to €230 a night for single occupancy, with supplements of about €40 on top of the total cost for double occupancy.

That is not a million miles off the rates charged last year by Dublin hoteliers, although the rates for top-end hotels do appear slightly cheaper.

Web Summit’s accommodation page contains a link to Booking. com for those who don’t fancy buying hotel rooms through Cosgrave’s company, Connected Intelligence.

A quick perusal of the popular hotels website shows that prices for almost all of the city centre hotels in Lisbon – the area recommended by the summit organisers – have been obscenely jacked up for the duration of the event.

At the time of writing, a double room at the luxury Corinthia was available for the four nights of the summit for a total of €1,461.

The same four nights at a later date are priced at €445, which means rates for this property on – the site linked to by the organisers – have more than tripled for the Web Summit.

The VIP Grand Lisboa costs €308 for four nights the week after the summit. The week of the event the price is €988, again more than triple. The Jupiter hotel is €644 for the four nights, but the price for four nights a week later drops to €304.

A double room at the Sana Malhoa, recommended by the summit organisers for delegates who are tech financiers, is available through the Web Summit site for a total of €720 for the Monday- through-Thursday nights of the event. The same room can be reserved for four nights a week later on for €287.

You don’t need to be a tech financier to figure out that the Web Summit in Lisbon 2016 will, in all likelihood, cost just as much to attend as the Web Summit in Dublin 2015.

Footnotes . . .

Galway entrepreneur Enda O’Coineen, co-founder of Kilcullen Kapital Partners, is bidding to become the first Irish person to complete the gruelling Vendée Globe around-the-world yacht race. Competitors must sail around the planet single handed, on their tod, alone, non-stop. That takes some cojones, which presumably could double as handy flotation devices if things don’t go to plan.

The race departs on November 8th, although O’Coineen’s boat will head for the starting point in France next week. He is receiving some shore assistance before he leaves from fellow financier Cathal Friel’s Raglan Capital. Friel is helping O’Coineen build financial support for the venture.

As part of the build-up, Raglan is inviting clients and friends this weekend to view the boat in which O’Coineen will take to the high seas. It will be at the National yacht club in Dún Laoghaire this Saturday and the nearby Royal Irish on Sunday.

They call the Vendée race the Everest of the seas. O’Coineen is doing it in aid of the Atlantic Youth Trust, which helps Irish children, North and South, connect through sailing.

If you are in business and would like to support the venture, the organisers would surely be delighted to hear from you.

There has been more movement on the corporate lawyers’ circuit, with a couple of high-profile departures from well-known Dublin firm Eugene F Collins.

Whitney Moore, whose managing partner is Stephen Walker, has hired two senior former members of EFC’s banking team. Ann Lalor, who was an EFC partner, has joined rival Whitney as a partner and head of its banking and finance department. She has been joined by former associate at EFC, Jamie Enright, who has also jumped ship to Whitney Moore’s banking team.

The competition these days among firms for corporate lawyers is said to be intense, as EFC is finding out. With the good times back in full swing, the best partners are all in hot demand.

Then again, they were busy advising clients during the downturn too. Are there ever any bad times for corporate lawyers?

Sturdy northern Englishman Gavin Slark, chief executive of Grafton, is grappling with the effects of the Brexit vote. The group’s UK-listed shares slid this week following its first-half results,

as some analysts prepare to cut their forecasts for the building materials retailer.

Slark, as everyone who knows him will attest, is also an insanely committed Sunderland football fan. He admitted this Wednesday to being worried about how new manager David Moyes would fare in the transfer market.

As it happens, it was a disaster for Moyes, who missed out on several targets before the transfer deadline on Wednesday night.

Let’s hope Slark has better luck hitting targets for Grafton in the coming months

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