What is Portugal’s view of Web Summit controversy?

IBM this week became the latest high-profile commercial partner to pull out of the Web Summit event in Lisbon next month, joining a long list that includes the likes of Google, Meta, Stripe, Intel and Israel. A number of attendees have also sought refunds, we’re told.

This all followed controversial remarks made by its chief executive and co-founder, Paddy Cosgrave, about the Israel-Hamas conflict. Given the raft of defections, there was speculation about whether Web Summit would actually take place this year.

Lisbon city and the Portuguese government have paid €11 million a year for the right to host Web Summit, which moved there from Dublin in 2016 and is contracted to stay until 2028.

So what is the view from Portugal and Lisbon on the controversies that have engulfed Web Summit over the past week or so?

Jair Rattner, a journalist in Portugal, told Inside Business, an Irish Times podcast, that “people [in Lisbon] were afraid that the Web Summit wouldn’t happen” for economic reasons, given that about 70,000 visit Lisbon for the event each year and tourism accounts for about 15 per cent of GDP in Portugal.

What do the Web Summit’s woes mean for Portugal?

Web Summit’s economic impact for Lisbon and Portugal is estimated at €300 million a year.

“It’s a big thing for the country if we lose something like that,” Rattner added, citing the fact that it gives a boost to the hospitality sector in Lisbon in its low season. “The hotels are almost all full and I would say 50 per cent of the participants go to Airbnb and other rentals of the same kind.”

In addition, Web Summit has helped to change outside perceptions of Portugal. “Some years ago, Portugal was only seen as a country of port and wine and olive oil. The government is trying to change the view of the country as a technological country… it has managed to change how the country is viewed.”

Paddy Cosgrave might have been cancelled but Portugal seems determined to hold on to Web Summit.


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