Baselworld is the undeniable king of trade shows in the watch industry. It’s more than that, it’s an institution that even the mightiest watch brands and most influential retailers shape their calendars around. As the entire industry gears up for the 2016 edition, WatchPro brings you its essential guide to surviving the event and making it work for you.
The Baselworld exhibiton runs over eight days, but it’s probably no exaggeration to suggest that a visitor could spend twice as long at the show and still not manage to see every watch being exhibited.
The secret to getting the most out of Baselworld is having a plan of attack; to know what you need from the show, work out how to achieve it and set out a schedule long before you reach the airport. Whether you’re planning on blitzing your brands in a full-on couple of days or there for the duration like WatchPro you’ll need to have planned ahead. If, by the time you’re reading this, you’ve not got any appointments booked then prepare to be brushed aside at every turn.
To bring you the widest possible cross section of new watches being shown at Baselworld, the WatchPro team will be attending around 20 meetings each day, with most brands scheduling 30 minute appointments to explain their latest releases. Attending Baselworld for eight days is perhaps the quintessential love/hate situation.
The secret to getting the most out of Baselworld is having a plan of attack
Your diary will prove your most valuable asset during Baselworld. Make sure it has been checked and double checked before setting off for Switzerland. Confirm you know where you have to be, with Hall and Stand locations alongside times, remembering to factor in the +1 hour time difference between the UK and Switzerland.
Having a contact telephone number and email address for each meeting can prove invaluable, but don’t rely on this as phone signals inside the MCH Swiss Exhibition halls are patchy at best and the Wi-fi often struggles to cope. Picking up a floorplan of the show before heading inside will guarantee you know where you should be heading.
Leave space in your luggage
You will return to the UK from Basel with far more than you departed with, whether that’s catalogues, marketing material or novelty, branded flying helmets. Pack accordingly; take the largest suitcase you can find and fill it no more than halfway with the travel essentials. Leaving yourself with no spare room in your luggage will make for some ruthless decision-making come the return trip.
From previous experience WatchPro recommends large, hard-shell suitcases with four non-directional wheels (two wheels are for amateurs) which make airport to accommodation journeys a breeze. We’ve singled out two practical, stylish examples with differing price points. The Victorinox Spectra 2.0 32 is a whopping 82cm high, weighs 4.5kg, is available in red, black and white costs £400.
Tumi’s new Tegra-Lite Max is more expensive at £975 but features a front pocket despite being a hardshell and expands out by two inches for added capacity. The 6.2kg Tegra-Lite Max is crafted from Tegris, a thermoplastic composite material, originally developed for American football body armour. If it all goes very wrong, Fed-Ex are on hand with a booth inside the show (Hall 1, Foyer North, Mezzanine Main Entrance) to ship items home.
Staying connected at Baselworld is perhaps the most important thing to consider, so your mobile phone will be your lifeline. Give yourself everything you need to take care of it, namely several plug adapters and two chargers, making sure you keep at least one of each with you at all times. It’s borderline irony that the best solution is also Swiss.
The Skross World Adapter Pro+ USB will make sure your electronic devices have access to power in Italy, Switzerland, Australia, China, the UK, USA, Japan and Europe as well as offering a detachable USB charging plug capable of powering two devices simultaneously. This model is available for £18.30 on Amazon.co.uk, expect to pay considerably more at the airport shop. You’ll also need to decide on what you want to carry around the show itself. Small, wheeled cases might be practical, but you will become a figure of hate amongst your peers for adopting a footprint three times larger than necessary; rucksacks provoke a similar reaction.
Remember you will be on your feet all day (and a day at Baselworld is longer than most), so take only the essentials. If you can conduct a working day using no more than a mobile phone, then consider yourself blessed. Unless you are a professional photographer use the camera on your phone and leave the DSLR at home, its bulk will weigh heavily on your shoulder come six o’clock. A laptop may however prove indispensible for most.
Somewhere to sleep…
Accommodation in Basel can be hard to come by, with some watch brands booking their hotel rooms up to five years in advance. Basel currently offers 40,000 hotel rooms but with 150,000 visitors attending Baselworld it’s not difficult to see why the city sometimes struggles to provide a bed for the night. Common tales of woe include people travelling for well over an hour, as well as across national borders, to reach the show each day. The return leg of such a journey only exacerbates matters in the evening, cutting short the vital, post-show networking that goes on in the bars and restaurants of Basel.
But Basel hotels can be booked at fairly short notice and the number of hotel rooms in town is growing all the time. However it is worth looking at alternative avenues. WatchPro has had great success with renting apartments in town through Airbnb in previous years.
Such is the influx of visitors to Basel during the show that floating accommodation motors its way down the Rhine and moors up a 15-minute drive from the exhibition centre. A total of five Hotel Ships are brought in to soak up the overflow, offering singles, doubles and luxury suites with free shuttle services to the show. The downside is the tariff, which is offered for the entire duration of the show, so no single nights or long weekends.
Ibis and Novotel have recently opened new One and Four Star hotels 2.5km from the MCH Congress Centre, adding a further 339 rooms to the city’s pooled hospitality resources. The Kraft group should have opened on Picassoplatz by now and a further three hotels are planned for this year. Five-star guests at the city’s Hilton will have to find somewhere else to stay in 2018 when the hotel is closed, refurbished and reopened in 2019 as a four-star Movenpick.
Basel nestles on the borders of France, Switzerland and Germany; with areas of the EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg considered territory of all three nations despite laying on French soil. This is sure to confuse first-time visitors but links between the airport and Basel couldn’t be simpler with a regular, shuttle bus (no longer free) laid on during the show. This is one aspect of the show that it’s difficult to get wrong.
Flights from the UK couldn’t be more prolific with direct flights from London, Manchester and Birmingham. Taxis in Basel are as expensive as any other business-orientated city but at least they back that with commendable efficiency. However if you have slightly more time to play with in your schedule, Basel’s excellent tram network shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s cheap – costing CHF 9.40 (£6.70) for a daily ticket for Basel and surrounding suburbs – clean, infuriatingly punctual and will offer you the only ten minutes relaxation you will be afforded during your stay in Basel as it trundles through town. Tickets can also be purchased from card-accepting machines at tram stops. It’s almost as if they want you to use public transport in Basel.
The entrance is easy to spot; it’s the one situated behind a milling crowd consisting of a goodly number of the global watch industry”
The only thing left to do is attend the show itself. The entrance is easy to spot; it’s the one situated behind a milling crowd consisting of a goodly number of the global watch industry. You see, natural daylight is in short supply inside the 13 halls of Baselworld. The vast, empty interiors are filled to bursting in the preceding weeks by an battalion of workmen using 7,000 lorry loads of material to craft an utterly luxurious, yet completely artificial environment.
It’s much like Vegas, except in Basel you are permitted to pop outside if your schedule allows it. And visitors do, in vast numbers, to suck in the sun’s rays, crisp Swiss air, cigarette smoke and the occasional glass of Pinot Grigio.
No pain, no gain
Heading outside can be a risky proposition, so intoxicating is the daylight to a Baselworld delegate come Sunday. The US Navy recommends its Submariners supplement with Vitamin D to make up for lack of sunlight and, while WatchPro is in no position to proffer medical advice, it certainly sounds like a plan.
Shoes are of vital importance once your schedule is underway as the only bit of kit protecting your feet from the 21km of stand facades you would walk past if you attempted a circumnavigation of Baselworld. New shoes are an absolute no-no as this particular editor discovered, much to the displeasure of his own heels. This was far beyond anything Compeed could cope with, but we’d consider the tiny transparent plasters essential gear when this much walking is involved. There’s narrow margin to be found between comfort and what you’d consider presentable enough for your business needs. We’d fully support anyone taking a pair of trainers for the dash between stands and smart shoes for your meetings.
Lunch and refreshments are available on the concourse outside the main halls but given the number of visitors booking is essential and prices are, well, Swiss. There are a number of other alternatives within a minute’s walk on the other side of Riehenring.
Brands often host a number of drinks, parties, special events and dinners in the evenings. Make sure to plan those you are fortunate enough to be invited to into your schedule.
Last but definitely not least…the dash for a drink
We at WatchPro are the first to admit that our coverage last year of potential drinking spots for the UK delegation turned into an unmitigated farce. First the Fair and Square (aka The Pickwick) closed in late 2014. This had been the traditional location for any watch industry types from the UK to meet post-show each evening for a well-deserved libation.
We spent the entire UK watch industry into a panic, no-one could quite come to terms with the situation let alone come up with a solution.
Eventually we at WatchPro decided to take the matter into our own hands and propose a solution that the nation could get behind. We nailed our colours to the mast of the nearby Pianobar and suggested everyone meet us there.
But, within days of the show opening its doors, we heard that a local ex-pat landlord had taken control of the former Fair and Square site and transformed it into the Fish Inn. The Brits had their pub back.
Baselworld 2015 was early doors for the new management, The Fish Inn had been open a matter of days, and service could have been a tad faster. But now with a year of experience under their belts and a fully functioning kitchen and menu in place we have high hopes for the venue in 2016.
Whatever your drinking arrangements remember to enjoy your time at Baselworld. It’s an experience that, if you visit for more than a couple of days, will illicit alternating feelings of jubilation, inspiration, boredom and quite possibly rage. But the experience illustrates the way in which the UK watch industry works far better than any time spent on these shores.