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Property agents and investors shun annual French shindig

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When property’s biggest party comes to the French Riviera next month, most estate agents, investors and dealmakers will be staying at home. 

The return to the pre-pandemic normal is an existential matter for office owners and salesmen. Yet most of them are shunning their glitzy annual shindig — the Mipim conference in Cannes — thanks to travel restrictions and health fears.

Described variously by attendees as “the best place to do deals” and “a big stag do”, Mipim will be operating at a fraction of normal capacity next month after leading property companies opted out.

The conference attracted almost 27,000 delegates in its last pre-coronavirus iteration in 2019. This year the organisers, having pushed the event back six months and halved its length to two days, expect nowhere near that many people to attend.

That in turn is likely to hamper a pick-up in property transactions, with the conference typically a hotbed of dealmaking.

“People will go on the off-chance of making the deal. They will stand in [local bar] Caffé Roma day after day drinking and hoping they will hear about a strip of land for sale in Guildford,” said one property veteran who has attended almost every Mipim event since its incarnation in 1990.

Estate agency Savills will not be exhibiting this year, and rival CBRE will not be sending delegates from the UK. Knight Frank said it “will not be attending this year in the same way that we have done previously”. The agency intends to send a skeleton crew of French staff. Colliers said it would send a small number of staff, mostly from France. 

The networking event on the Riviera is usually a hive of dealmaking © Valery Hache/AFP via Getty

With existing and potential clients in attendance, property manager JLL said it had “a number of delegates due to attend” and added that “Mipim remains important to us”.

Their absence is a blow for the conference, put on by Reed Exhibitions. Organisers expect 4,000-5,000 delegates at the two-day event, a figure first reported by Property Week.

“It will be a fantastic opportunity for attendees to stand out and get a head start on networking and rebuilding relationships after this period of isolation,” said Ronan Vaspart, director of Mipim.

Networking on the Riviera is typically done glass-in-hand, according to previous attendees.

“People work hard there but it is a jolly. If you moved it to Grimsby I don’t think you would find as many people there,” said Nick Leslau, a property investor who has attended at least 10 times.

The conference is nicknamed, with some affection, “Massive International Piss-up In March” by some visitors from the UK and a “laddish” culture has long been prevalent in the bars away from the main conference area, according to previous attendees. 

Faced with increasing scrutiny over diversity, the heavily male-dominated property industry has come under pressure to curb some of those excesses.

“It’s got this reputation as being a big stag do, and that’s a diversity issue . . . Professional women don’t want to walk down [the promenade] La Croisette and be wolf-whistled,” said the veteran attendee. 

Mipim has been forced to adapt in the past, most notably after the 2008 financial crisis.

“Pre-crisis, banks were competing to have the best parties and aggressively hunting real estate borrowers. Now everyone’s looking at costs, that’s all been curtailed,” said Leslau, who has not attended recently. “It has a lot of value to many people,” he said. “But I stopped going to Mipim when the top bankers stopped going to Mipim.

A number of banks, developers and investors, including Credit Suisse and Ivanhoé Cambridge are attending in September and the conference organisers share a similar hope to their attendees: that next year everyone will be ready for a full return to the physical world.

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