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CORDER’S COLUMN: Baselworld must adapt or die in a digitally connected world

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I am a fan of Baselworld, and take no pleasure in the difficulties it has faced in the past few years as the show has shrunk from an eight day event with around 1500 exhibitors to the six day show it was last year with around 650 stands.

But I also agree that MCH Group, which owns and organises Baselworld, and the city officials in Basel, have wrung the neck of a goose that has been laying golden eggs for decades, and they have only themselves to blame for major groups turning their backs on the exhibition.

The only innovation in recent years that has improved Baselworld has been the emergence of Airbnb, which has increased the amount of rooms available to hire in recent years and made it just about affordable for hard pressed jewellers and journalists to attend.

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Nick Hayek, chief executive of Swatch Group, has accused Baselworld executives of arrogance and snobbery as they ignored cries from exhibitors and visitors for a more rewarding experience.

Swatch Group reportedly spends around $50 million on space, building its stands and relocating its staff to Baselworld. That is an astronomical figure when you think about how else it might be spent to promote Omega, Longines, Tissot et al to the world.

My hope is that Baselworld and Basel see sense and work with Swatch Group to work together from 2020 onwards. This could mean that, like SIHH in Geneva, they help VIP visitors to come to the shows, and treat them like royalty when they get there.

It is unfathomable that, while SIHH provides free refreshments and an excellent lunch for visitors every day, in Baselworld you have to scour the halls to find a dried up sandwich that will set you back around £15.

SIHH provides free transport to whisk visitors to and from their hotels, while the city of Basel allows taxis to ramp up fares during Baselworld week. A shuttle bus from the airport into Basel city centre used to be free until two years ago. Restaurants and bars have menus made especially for Baselworld week with higher prices than the rest of the year.

None of these trivial examples adds up to a hill of beans next to the $50 million spent by Swatch Group, but they are totemic of the arrogance to which Mr Hayek alludes.

Fixing these smaller things will not save Baselworld, but it will at least show an understanding that the event must put the needs of visitors at the centre of its recovery plans.

The more complicated question is how to remain relevant to the world’s biggest watchmakers which, as Mr Hayek points out, are on the ground in every significant country of the world, and can speak to consumers and retail partners on a daily basis.

Here the industry needs to be careful it does not throw the baby out with the bath water because it is vital that Switzerland retains its role as watchmaker to the world. The annual showcase in Basel has been part of this story, and it would be regrettable if the industry as a whole were not able to demonstrate its incredible scale, skill and creativity at an annual event.

I also worry on behalf of retailers if the event calendar splinters any more than it is today. Visiting SIHH in January and Baselworld in March is manageable, but there are now events held by groups including MGS and Festina in different countries. There are only so many of these that retailers can find the time for.

Baselworld has contributed to its own problems, and must find a way to regain its relevance in a digitally connected world. Buyers and press will continue to crave an opportunity to see and feel new watch collections every year, they just resent the lack of respect afforded to them by Baselworld and the city of Basel.

 

Tags : baselworldCorder's Column
Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder

2 Comments

  1. Excellent article, the developments are very worrying. I have come to Basel for around 35 years and last year was the flattest I’ve ever known. Basel has always abused it’s visitors with the prices of the taxis, restaurants and hotels, etc, but it was almost worth it in its good days. No longer, the withdrawal of the Swarch Group is not altogether surprising, given the arrogance of the organisers and the strength and single-mindedness of the Group. The Swatch Group did walk away before which led to Cartier and associated brands taking their (prime) space. When the Swatch Group returned, A D Perrin established SIHH in Geneva and for a Nano-Second there were strong rumours about four other, non Richemont brands joining them. If at least two of them today decided to exhibit in Geneva, Lausanne or Neuchatel instead it would be cataclysmic for the Fair as far as watches is concerned, and the hotels and restaurants. Watch this Space!

  2. Great article.
    All of a sudden this can turn our as a huge opportunity for the independent watchmakers.
    Never like in these days they have enjoyed of such an amount of visibility. It would be good to centre the whole Baselword around them, one day.
    In a wider perspective, the stands of the big brands are not accessible to the general public anyway, with few exceptions. So, for the passionate collectors or the keen watch lover, it won’t make such a difference not to stare in front of the Breguet stand to appreciate a few watches showcased on the very few accessible windows.
    Only saying.

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