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Slow decline of Baselworld: what a shame!

It’s a real shame to see the decline of Baselworld. Its status as the world’s number one watch and jewellery fair has been in decline for many years, but the news that Swatch Group had quit the show sent shockwaves throughout the industry, most notably in Switzerland.

Swatch’s announcement to NZZ am Sonntag, the Swiss, German-language newspaper on Saturday 28 July, probably caught Baselworld owners, MCH Group, by surprise too.

Indeed, MCH’s share price fell when the Swiss Stock Exchange opened on the Monday morning. This is testament to how important Swatch’s presence is at the event.

Things only got worse; in a telephone interview on CBNC, Swatch chief executive officer Nick Hayek was very critical of Baselworld management and stated there was resistance to change needed to revitalise the show, while ignoring exhibitor complaints.

Apart from this latest commotion, another reason why the organisers would have been caught off guard was because Swatch is reported to have given a commitment to the 2019 event following this year’s show in March. The 2018 Baselworld had mixed results; with some reports stating the event was in turmoil.

Our own fair wrap-up in June reported René Kamm, CEO of MCH Group as saying, “Today, nothing is certain. We will try to keep this industry event in Basel, but I cannot provide guarantees.” In effect he was saying that Baselworld would go ahead next year – but nobody knows what will happen in 2020.

"I have likened Baselworld to a religious calling and attending in its heyday was like a pilgrimage; it was truly a sight to behold."

It’s inarguable that the Baselworld has been under pressure for some time; the 2018 exhibitor numbers were more than 600 fewer than in 2017, and in May managing director Sylvie Ritter resigned after 15 years in the position. The director of sales Martin Fergusson and the marketing and communications director Loraine Stantzos both departed at the same time.

These issues, as well as many others, speak volumes for the predicament of the show and its management, which has been regularly described as arrogant.

MCH had to respond to Swatch’s decision and Hayek’s comments, which it did on 30 July. Kamm issued a statement saying: “We extraordinarily regret Swatch Group’s decision. The cancellation is all the more surprising for us because this news reaches us at a point in time when new management has arrived with a new team, new esprit and many new ideas.”

Michel Loris-Melikoff, who replaced Ritter on 1 July added: “We want to conduct the fair in 2019 as attractively as possible, in a new style and with a new way of thinking. With this in mind, I hope that a successful edition of Baselworld in 2019 will motivate Swatch Group to again participate in the show in the future. I personally would be very pleased to hold constructive talks with Swatch Group.”

A number of changes have been flagged, including a retailer summit that will take place in Hall 1.2, a first for Baselworld; an exhibition about the art of watchmaking and expanding and bringing the onsite catering into the middle of the show floor, instead of having it on the periphery and outside the halls.

Also, attempts are underway to negotiate with hotels and restaurants in the Basel area to curb price gouging; it’s well known that local bars and restaurants print special menus, listing highly inflated prices during the fair.

One can only wonder whether it’s all too late. None of these complaints are new, but despite an extensive list of legitimate gripes, MCH has resisted change for many years.

I began this editorial by expressing sorrow at the decline of Baselworld because I have previously written that if you have never attended Basel, you should do so at least once in your life.

I have likened Baselworld to a religious calling and attending in its heyday was like a pilgrimage; it was truly a sight to behold.

More importantly, it reminded you why this industry is so awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, if things don’t change, it now seems destined to become a lost relic of the past.











ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Coleby Nicholson • Managing Editor

Managing Editor • Jeweller Magazine


Coleby Nicholson is publisher and managing editor of Jeweller magazine. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than a decade and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.









Wednesday, 19 December, 2018 03:06pm
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