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A Rolex executive is among those calling for Baselworld management to refund exhibitors 100 per cent of their deposits for the cancelled 2020 show.
A Rolex executive is among those calling for Baselworld management to refund exhibitors 100 per cent of their deposits for the cancelled 2020 show.

Uproar: Baselworld exhibitors demand full refund

Furore has erupted among exhibitors for the cancelled 2020 edition of Baselworld, following the organiser’s offer of a partial refund.

When Baselworld organiser MCH Group announced that COVID-19 had prevented it from conducting the 2020 show on its scheduled dates of 25–29 April, its media statement said that the event had been “postponed” to 28 January–2 February 2021. 

Given that Baselworld is an annual event, not conducting an event this year could not mean that the show was postponed to next year, unless the organiser was planning to hold two shows in 2021.

Many industry commentators viewed the announcement as poorly worded; the 2020 edition of Baselworld had, in fact, been cancelled.

Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld
Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld
"If I do [offer a full refund], I jeopardise Baselworld. The industry will need a platform to sell its products. Our responsibility is therefore to ensure its sustainability"
Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld

However, it appears that the wording may have been intentional as MCH Group is now refusing to refund 100 per cent of exhibitors’ fees for the 2020 show, claiming they have moved the payments to the 2021 event.

As a result, JCK Online reports that “exhibitors to the Swiss show are up in arms, griping that the fair isn’t giving full refunds for the cancelled show, and that the new dates don’t work for many of them.”

As previously reported by Jeweller, MCH Group is offering to carry forward 85 per cent of the fees for 2020 event to Baselworld 2021, with the remaining 15 per cent kept by MCH Group to “serve to partially offset out-of-pocket costs already accrued”.

Baselworld’s 3 April announcement offered a second option: exhibitors can request a cash refund of up to 30 per cent of the fees, with 40 per cent carried forward to Baselworld 2021 and the remaining 30 per cent covering the organiser’s costs of the cancelled 2020 show.

The problem is that many exhibitors want their money fully refunded given that, regardless of wording – postponed versus cancelled –  the 2020 event for which they booked is not taking place.

Baselworld managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff has made no secret of the fact that MCH Group wants to keep the exhibitor deposits, which he estimates at CHF20 million ($AU32.3 million).

“The closer you are to the show date, the higher the costs incurred. By the time the [COVID-19] crisis began to unfold, Baselworld was just a few days before setting up the fairgrounds and the major portion of the expenditures in preparation for Baselworld 2020 had already been made,” Loris-Melikoff said.

One of the points of contention is the fact that the figure includes approximately $US9 million ($AU14 million) in fees to the Basel exhibition centre, which is owned by MCH Group.

Background reading: Luxury watch market can't support competing trade shows

In an editorial, Rob Corder, editor-in-chief of UK-based industry publication WatchProexplained, “The problem is that the right choices often get ignored when the lawyers and accountants get involved, and this appears to be precisely what has happened when it comes to the subject of refunding deposits for exhibitors who had booked into the 2020 fair.

“First, lawyers will explain that postponing is by far the better term than cancelling, because it means the default setting for exhibitors is that they are already booked into the show when it eventually takes place in 2021.

Hubert du Plessix, Rolex SA
Hubert du Plessix, Rolex SA
"We fear that this will be the end, pure and simple, of Baselworld, especially since the dates chosen in January 2021 are not suitable for the jewellery, gemstones and pearls sector"
Hubert du Plessix, Rolex SA

"This pushes the onus onto the exhibitor to say whether they still wish to participate in what is effectively the same show (just the date has changed, and that is something well covered in contract law).”

Hubert du Plessix, president of the Baselworld exhibitor’s committee and a director of Rolex SA – one of Baselworld’s largest and most loyal exhibitors – has been critical of the show’s approach.

In a letter to Baselworld management calling for refunds on the 2020 event, du Plessix wrote that fully refunding exhibitors would be an “elegant solution [that] would be the best way to encourage exhibitors to participate in a future edition of Baselworld”.

The letter, obtained and published by watch blog SJX, added: “Otherwise, we fear that this will be the end, pure and simple, of Baselworld, especially since the dates chosen in January 2021 are not suitable for the jewellery, gemstones and pearls sector, and that coordination with Watches & Wonders (SIHH) no longer exists.”

However, Loris-Melikoff has so far insisted that a full reimbursement is “impossible”, telling Swiss newspaper Les Temps, “If I do [offer a full refund], I jeopardise Baselworld.

“After such a horribilis annus, the industry will need a platform to sell its products. Our responsibility is therefore to ensure its sustainability.”

Whether Baselworld can be sustained while antagonising its exhibitors remains to be seen.


More reading:
Baselworld faces blowback over refund policies
Rolex chief warns Baselworld’s approach will kill the show
Baselworld inches towards calamity
Michel Loris-Melikoff: "Baselworld is also in survival mode"











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