What the Web Summit can do for Doha

Europe’s largest technology event, the Web Summit, is expanding from its home of Lisbon to Doha in March 2024. From November 1st to 4th, 71,000 people from 160 countries flocked to the 2022 Web Summit’s host city of Lisbon. With the latest news of the tech event to be held in Doha, can the Gulf nation expect the same transformative effect and position itself on the techie’s map?

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Paddy Cosgrave, founder of Web Summit, speaks to the media during a press conference.

Since becoming Europe’s largest tech event, the Web Summit made a controversial move to Lisbon in 2016, reportedly due to bottlenecks with Ireland’s capacity and cost of living crisis, and Lisbon’s comparative readiness in infrastructure, besides Dublin having the highest cost of real estate compared to GDP as a direct result of the influx of tech entrepreneurs.

Founded in Dublin in 2010 by Irishman Paddy Cosgrave, The Web Summit’s inception solidified Ireland as the European headquarters for Facebook and all things tech at the time, as Ireland’s backstop meant IT software and hardware’s point of entry into Europe was invariably through the UK’s least encumbered by red tape or tax spot. Its very first edition had only 400 people in attendance.   

On a 10-year contract that costs the Portuguese government 11 million euros a year, Portugal’s capital overtook Dublin as the new European tech hub. Billboards popped up across the city reading “This is Not the new Berlin. This is Portugal.” repeating other narratives spun by the press suggesting Lisbon was the new London, Dublin, or California, yet Lisbon marketed its status as an entirely different tech hub and way of life.

The Web Summit organisers are famous for aggressive marketing and it turned into the perfect storm with the return on investment for the country, the city and the event organisers far outweighing its cost. The event is said to have been instrumental to the country of just over 10 million inhabitants’ transformation, crippled at the time by household debt as well as government debt after the crisis of 2008-2014. The Government estimates a return of $340 million in hotel and other tourism revenue in Lisbon over that one week in November alone in 2022.

Its impact on the country as a whole was transformational, with immeasurable value, far beyond tourism revenues. The event’s arrival and government policies surrounding it, are deemed responsible for the boom Portugal is experiencing to this day, seven years on, in real estate as well as the government treasury. The Web Summit served as a window to what the host city had to offer in way of infrastructure, tax benefits, a start-up culture and lifestyle.

Lisbon’s 2023 edition will take place from 13 to 16 November at the Altice Arena. Alongside the Portuguese event, the organisation will hold two other events this year: Web Summit Rio in Brazil, from 1 to 4 May, which will be Web Summit’s debut in Latin America and the Collision Conference, returning to Toronto, Canada, from 26 to 29 June. Doha’s exact dates in March 2024 are yet to be confirmed, but the event has committed to be held in Doha for five years thereon.

From environment to health, and cybersecurity to energy production, it presents the occasion for Qatar to flaunt its leadership role in technological innovation in LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) for one, further cement its Tech parks, attract renowned engineers, bitcoin boys, tech entrepreneurs and enthusiasts alike. Perhaps less known, and that which the Web Summit taking place in Doha will showcase, is that Qatar’s start-up scene is already booming.

With both the government and commercial sector supporting technological innovation, Qatar outperforms other nations in the region, ranking 28th globally for its potential for innovation according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2021. The nation had concentrated on cutting-edge fields like cybersecurity, A.I. and blockchain, all of which it tested during one of the world’s largest sporting events, propelling the country to new heights.

For Qatar, many lessons were learned during their hosting of the World Cup Qatar 2022, the mammoth event which the country had used as a landmark moment for significant investments in technical infrastructure. Besides its size making it ideal for testing innovation, its purpose-built readiness and technological prowess in fields such as biotech and cybersecurity, coupled with political will and deep pockets, put Doha in good stead to becoming a tech hub in its own right.

As the world’s 4th wealthiest nation according to Global Finance, the Gulf nation may not need help buffering its coffers, but international recognition in the field of technology and the transformative effect that can have on its society and economy, is at the forefront of their bid to host the Web Summit Qatar and aligned with their growth strategy dubbed “Qatar National Vision 2030”. The financials of the deal between Qatar and Web Summit organisers have not been disclosed but one thing is certain, the multiplier effect of an event such as this, will be worth every penny.

“Our ambition is to make Web Summit ever more global,” Paddy Cosgrave, the company’s CEO and majority owner told The Independent of Ireland. “Establishing a new event in the Middle East is part of that broader plan.” He said that after “receiving bids from several cities across the Middle East”, the Web Summit had selected Doha as the new event’s host city for the next five years. Could the successful hosting of the World Cup in December 2022 have swayed the organisers to choose Doha?

Either way, this is a major win.

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