Letter from Barcelona

So here we are in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. A few things have changed since last year. First, the hotel. That’s hotel with an ‘s’ in the middle. Last year, I was just off the Ramblas, so Leicester Square, if you compare Barcelona to London. This year, I’m at the end of the Northern Line, in a quiet little area called Valldaura, so a little off the beaten track. Lovely little place though, the Garden House Hostel. If you’re trying to do MWC on the cheap, or just tend to leave it too late to book a hotel, (I tick both those boxes) you could do a lot worse. True, the bed you pay for is just about all you get, save for the door and a mains socket. But at less than €20 per night, with free wi-fi, breakfast for €2.50 and a kitchen where you can knock up your own meals, it’s hard to complain. Other people of a certain age have obviously cottoned on to this. There aren’t many youths in this youth hostel, and when I arrived late last night, one group was tucking into some lovely-looking food and wine. 
The other change this year occurred when I went to register and pick up my pass for the show. As last year, I got my neat little MWC rucksack, exhibition guide and other bits and pieces, but unlike last year, there was no travelcard for the Metro. Judging by the reaction I got when I queried this with the lady on the registration desk, I was not the first hack to notice. Well what do they expect? Give a journo a freebie one year, and he’s going to shout long and hard when you take it away the next. A sure sign that the credit crunch is beginning to bite in all sorts of places.
Still, who needs the Metro? I made my way to the Fira exhibition complex this morning on a very nice Specialized mountain bike, hired from Barcelona Bike Rentals. What a nice bunch of people they are. I asked if I could start my 8-hour reservation when they opened at 10am, even though I might not make it until a bit later. “No problem” they said on the email. So I was a bit perplexed to get a call on my mobile at half 11 asking when I was going to pick the bike up, as the guy had come in at 10 just for me. Usually on a Sunday, they don’t open till 11. It got better/worse depending on your point of view. When I picked the bike up, I said I’d have it back to him by 3. It was then that he told me they close at 2, but that he’d come back at 3 anyway to keep me happy. And all this for €20. Yes, despite the plug, this is not one of those Sunday Times Travelogue pieces where I say nice things about all the things I’ve blagged. I did pay for it; I just though the service was exceptional, and at the end of a great afternoon, I can say without any reservation that a bike is a great way to see Barcelona.
As for the show itself, who knows what to expect, or what the big themes are going to be this year. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the year when people will really start talking about Location-based Services (LBS). While there’s still a lot of hype around mobile advertising, I think a lot of people now know what it’s about and what it can do for them. LBS, I think, is still at the stage where a lot of people see a lot of potential in it, and there are a lot of good ideas floating about, but the dots are still not completely joined up. Some of the partnerships sealed at this year’s show should help to make some of these ideas a reality.
We’ll be reporting from the floor of the show as often as we can. I’ve tried not to over-commit to too many briefings this year, as the PRs who have been bombarding my inbox these last few weeks will confirm, so I hope to have time to fish out some of the more interesting, quirky stories.
If you’re at the show, enjoy it, and if you’re not, stay tuned.

David Murphy