Well before Coronavirus struck, the sad reality is that most changes to Baselworld and Watches & Wonders Geneva (formerly SIHH) in the past two years have made a difficult situation worse.
Perhaps that was unavoidable. Trade fairs in all industries are going through fundamental changes, and things are typically getting worse before they get better.
With the cancellation of this year’s shows, there is an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and start afresh with something truly fresh.
Today, we know only one thing about 2021, which is that Baselworld will take place from January 28 to February 2 (plus a press day on January 27). We assume it will be in Basel, but that was not mentioned in the organiser’s statement and it is known that the show’s managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff is interested in the idea of holding events in other parts of the world.
The end of January is the perfect time for a major trade fair for the Swiss watch industry, but the fact that Baselworld is still scheduled to run for six days, not including the press day, sets off warning bells in my head.
Brands want exhibiting at Baselworld to be cheaper, and a week-long show is not only an unnecessary expense in itself, it also suggests the organiser is aiming for less change than the industry is demanding.
Swatch Group’s Time to Move event was scheduled to take four days this year, LVMH’s Watch Week in Dubai was over in two. Nobody was intending to go to Watches & Wonders Geneva for more than three days.
A week-long Baselworld suggests they are sticking to their prior obsession of quantity (of floor space, size of stands, duration and visitor numbers) over quality (of experience, enjoyment, return on time and money invested from exhibitors and visitors).
Assuming the show takes place in Basel, all the same issues remain in terms of hotels and restaurants gouging visitors. And you can add in much worse weather. If the intention is to attract more watch-loving consumers to a jubilant festival of Swiss watchmaking, it is hard to think of a less inviting time and place.
If Watches & Wonders Geneva moves to March, it would have a decent shot at persuading the whole city and surrounding watchmaking villages to throw open their arms to welcome the world to a carnival of horology.
Manufactures, museums and the city’s incredible retailers like Les Ambassadeurs and Bucherer could be part of the fun. If it runs immediately before or after Baselworld in January or February, the weather again would be an obstacle.
Shows in January and March (the situation until this year) may not be universally popular (see our survey of retailers’ views towards trade fairs), but if they do enough to attract back Swatch Group and other deserters, the calendar would be back to a much more manageable state.
Our survey shows that retailers in the UK do want trade fairs where they can speak to brands and see/touch the watches they will be selling that year. They are also far better for the world’s media, which will willingly create hype and excitement from seeing myriad brands at an enjoyable show.
These are very, very difficult issues to grapple with, and I would sure as hell rather be commentating from the sidelines than making the decisions and corralling the industry as the trade fair organisers are required to do.
But robust and engaging conversations are vital right now and all stakeholders’ voices must be heard if a tough situation is not to be made into a disastrous one.