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CORDER’S COLUMN: Basel hotels could drive trade fair out of the city

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I have interviewed Michel Loris-Melikoff twice about his plans to turnaround the fortunes of Baselworld.

On both occasions,  I put it to the show’s managing director that the event’s problems could only be truly solved if it moved out of the city of Basel.

He did not rule out the suggestion, but there are no signs that a shift to a more accommodating destination like Dubai, Hong Kong, Las Vegas or Paris is in the pipeline.

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That strikes me as a mistake.

News reached me last week that Basel’s hotels are refusing to issue refunds for bookings in the week when Baselworld would have run this year.

The city’s only 5-star hotel, Les Trois Rois, not only declined requests for refunds this year, they added insult to injury by demanding a 10% administration fee to move bookings to January next year, the date set for Baselworld in 2021.

I have seen similar terms and conditions being imposed by Merian Basel and heard from a retailer booked into Basel’s Victoria Hotel that they have completely ignored inquiries about refunds for this year or moving a booking to 2021.

Mr Loris-Melikoff knows full well how frustrated visitors to Basel are with the way they are treated by hotels and restaurants in normal years. People are sick of being charged prices that can be three or four times higher during Baselworld for rubbish hotels and awful food.

He has implored hoteliers to treat guests better and move away from gouging tactics like insisting guests pay for the entire duration of Baselworld in order to secure rooms.

He has even threatened them with moving Baselworld to another city if they do not change.

Baselworld is scheduled to take place in 2021 from January 28 to February 2 in Basel. It may be impossible to move the show before next year, leading to retailers I have spoken to in Europe saying they are likely to visit the show without even staying overnight. Most retailers only need to see half a dozen brands, and that can be done in a day.

Everything the Baselworld team is trying to do with the show — turning it into a celebration of watchmaking, welcoming people from the trade along with watch-loving members of the public — will fail without the city of Basel doing its part to make visiting the show as enjoyable and affordable as possible.

The attitude of hotels towards their loyal long term guests is a disgrace, and likely to either drive Baselworld out of the city or kill it altogether.

5 Comments

  1. I don’t understand why you’re proposing moving the show to the Far or Middle East, or to the USA. Europe is home to the vast majority of watch brands and over half of the jewellery brands. Excluding the USA and the Far East which have their own shows, Europe has the biggest conurbation of independent and multiple jewellers in the world.
    Basel has long taken the proverbial and deserves to be radically reined in one way or another. Move it out of Basel by all means, but to Geneva, Zurich, London, the UK, probably not London, sorry, Paris, one of several German cities, Italy, etc etc
    I do feel for Basel who have been spoiled for millennia but I do think of their bar and hotel owners and employees,, taxi drivers and many more who will have their livelihood stripped from them this year without compensation. Many of them have become friends or nodding acquaintances over the years and Baselworld made up over half, in some cases 70% of their annual income. Despite the cost we have always been grateful they are there and that the city and the show have made sure it ran without serious issues, even when the boat, ironically outside the Three Kings (Trois Rois) was engulfed by fire.

    Alan-Dominique Perrin’s dream was to have the watch brands move to Geneva but this was resisted by many of them for various reasons and we ended up with two shows. When all this is over it would be useful to have a mass consultation of European retailers, brands and distributors as well as the city authorities, much as TAG did in the early 80’s when they bought Heuer with a view to its future and incorporating the TAG name. I am sure many of the Watch and jewellery brands would help finance the cost of this. Baselworld ‘s review was always about keeping the Fair in Basel, and none of the companies, hotels etc were prepared to listen or act decisively. It was their way or the highway from start to finish

  2. Dear Editor, and Loyal Readers,
    I hope you are all staying safe, well, and indeed, at home, during this terrible Corvid-19 outbreak.
    It fills me with joy, when I see hotels in the UK, trying to give something back to the community, such as free accommodation, for all those brave font line workers, trying to save our lives, such as doctor’s, nurses, paramedic’s, and social care workers. Then I read this article by the learned editor, and it makes me feel so sad, that the Basel hotel industry, still feeds on gouging, and price hiking, which I have experienced many a time, during my 20 years tour of duty, at Baselworld, as a simple exhibit design qnd builder. During the build and dismantle periods, the prices in all hotels and eateries, are as reasonable as you might expect, in a Swiss city, comparable with Geneva, or Zurich, and as soon as the (exhibitor product set up days, and press day) arrives, just be before the show opens, the costs increase by circa 300%, and this borders on pure greed. They might say, its a case of supply and demand, but then again, it does seem pretty much like a cartel, as the exhibitors also have the organizers own selection of exhibit designers and builders imposed upon them, with a premise of a better site/location, which has often been to mine and my peers detriment, even with the client willing to pay at least 30% more than my charges, so that they get their promised “location.” well, it would seem that this monopoly by the cartels, from top down, has now come back to haunt them.
    There is no doubt, that once we are all safely through this terrible virus outbreak, there will be a new world order, and also our appreciation towards occupations, that once, were taken for granted, and perhaps, the ripple effect, might even reach the grand 0ld show known as Baselworld, as time for greed, is so yesterday.
    Kind regards and be safe, well, and stay at home
    Chris Casey

  3. PS
    It is also great, to know that our wonderful exhibition industry, has given something back to the people.
    In London, the ExCeL Exhibition Centre, has been converted in to a 4000 bed critical are unit, and from cradle to grave, took 9 days (using exhibit technology and knowledge) and the surrounding hotels are providing accommodation for all the hard working, front-line angels.
    This will also take place in other major cities in the UK, as well as in Madrid, Milan
    My heart, prayers and best wishes go out to all those reading this great column, by the chief editor Rob, and all of those close to you.
    Please stay safe, well and for the time being, at home

  4. As Editor-in-Chief of the 0024WatchWorld platform with way over 20 tours-of-duty @ BaselWorld, I wrote many many times about the total greed of the City of Basel and their hospitality partners. In the last years restaurant owners even did not bother to hide the normal menu with reasonable prices but simply throw a A4 printed paper with 300% higher BaselWorld prices on the table. After the bold decison of Hayek to leave the fairgrounds things started to move, Management of BaselWorld changed and I must say for us as press the 2019 edition was quiet comfortable. Reading the comments combined with my own experiences and talks with exhibitors, retailer, distributors etc. I have the sad feeling that everything is stuck in the middle. Fair organizers are listening and willingly but the City of Basel is not doing enough to make it happen. In the Covid-19 pressure cooker this could turn out to be the final push into the abyss for BaselWorld as we know it. Despite the open mind of the new management. Alongside the huge debts for the new buildings and peayment schedule on the loans a healthy business model is further away than ever…My advice-to-survive: Pick up the positive pr by heart, make the City management aware of the bad publicity the hospitality industry is creating for all and make real positive changes!

  5. Dear Rob,
    With all due respect, I partially understand and agree with the Article of yours, but I am sorry to say, you are judging a situation involving a Business Sector you are not familiar with as to how it works.
    Of course Hotels in the city of Basel but not only in this city but everywhere in world where a city is yearly hosting a major event (Geneva Auto Saloon, Barcelona MWC, Berlin ITB, Miami Art Basel etc etc), are, or were profiting from these Fairs. Hotels, especially in a small city like Basel do not have unlimited Guests segments they can profit from throughout the year.
    Anyway, let us concentrate at Basel and the Baselworld fair.
    You will agree with me that, whatever the Journey Purpose is (Business or Leisure), it is inevitably connected with the cost factor. One of the costs is the cost of accommodation. When it comes to events, fairs, exhibitions etc., the accommodation cost especially for exhibitors (either customers and or Staff) is a part of their Logistic calculation.
    For the Baselworld the cost of accommodation for the companies exhibiting is number four on their list. The main cost factor is getting their luxury goods in Switzerland/Basel and transferring these back from where these were transferred. Number two on the cost list is the Booth. With a booth, I mean a) Renting (exhibitor’s fees), b) Construction, c) Planning and d) Implementing. The third cost on the list is marketing prior to the fair. At number four, as mentioned is the accommodation.
    For your Article to be accurate, I would expect an experience Editor like yourself, to shift the “why Baselword has come to this unfortunate situation in Basel” and look more deeply into the “WHY”.
    It is only unfair to point out your finger at the Basel Hotels, and them being the ONLY reason(s) why Baselworld has come to the edge of “extinction”.
    If I take you back, 10 years ago, during the financial crisis, the SARS etc, the Companies involved in the above top 4 cost list, did absolutely nothing to “save” the fair. They did not want to hear anything about it, did not show any flexibility and kept their costs/charges towards all exhibitors with NO exception at the same level. Did you ask Mr Michel Loris-Melikoff how much the Booth fee per square meter was reduced since 2010? Did you ask what Baselword and MCH did to make this fair sustainable?
    At the end of the day, hotels play an important role in the customer Journey. I would allow myself to say the most important role in a customised Journey such as this of a fair. As for moving the fair to Dubai or any other destination, I would say only this: Made in Switzerland.
    I rest my case.

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder