Portugal stands by a deal to grant €11 million a year to host the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, prime minister António Costa told The Irish Times following criticism of the arrangement as the pandemic forced the event to move online thi s year.
Under the deal the Web Summit – led by Irishman Paddy Cosgrave – committed to stay in the capital until 2028, and Portuguese authorities agreed to double the size of two event arenas to accommodate the tech conference in the hopes of drawing investment and employment to the city.
There has been mounting criticism of the deal in Portugal after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the event to be held online, wiping out the income that would have been spent in the local economy by conference attendees, and with increased adoption of video-conferencing raising questions about the future of the business model itself.
“It’s absolutely a great honour to have the Web Summit in Lisbon, and everything that is on the agenda of the Web Summit remains on the agenda. We have an agreement for still some years to come,” Mr Costa said in an interview with a group of European journalists.
“This year was special, with Covid, and that did not allow us to do the Web Summit in an in-person way, but the Web Summit was more ‘web’ than ever. So it must continue, it can stay in Lisbon.”
Portugal’s deal with the conference included a €3 billion “buyout clause” – the sum needed if another city wanted to lure the event away from Lisbon – which was described by the Web Summit as “the minimum expected economic impact of Web Summit to Portugal over the duration of it’s contract”.
“We continue to work with Paddy Cosgrave and his team to continue to develop further this important project,” Mr Costa said.
“It brings together people from all the world into the debate that the digital transformation poses to us, and that is essential to continue to deepen and give energy and motivation to young entrepreneurs who can then imagine achieving their dream by founding a little start-up, that can one day become a small, a medium, a mid-cap, and finally a big global business.”
More than 70,000 people attended the Web Summit in 2019, according to company figures. The conference moved to Lisbon in 2016, citing the limitations of size and infrastructure in Dublin, where it had begun its life in 2009.