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BREAKING NEWS: Baselworld back from the dead

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Outside View.

MCH Group has relaunched Baselworld, a show that last ran in 2019 before the covid pandemic derailed its plans for 2020 and beyond.

It will take place in 2022 from March 31 to April 4, which is the same week as Watches and Wonders Geneva, a show that runs from March 30 to April 5 next year.

Hour Universe, a brand created to replace Baselworld, has been dropped altogether.

Baselworld has a monumental task to rebuild support among potential exhibitors, retailers and press.

Mishandling of the postponement and refunding of deposits to exhibitors in 2020 proved to be the final straw for the show’s biggest exhibitors: Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard, Tudor and Chanel, which decided to move to Geneva and join Richemont’s Watches and Wonders event.

LVMH brands Bulgari, TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith also left to set up their own LVMH Watch Week, and are also expected to appear at Watches and Wonders Geneva in 2022.

Michel Loris-Melikoff, managing director of Baselworld.

Swatch Group had already turned its back on Baselworld after a final appearance in 2018, which is thought to have saved the organisation around $50 million, but Baselworld managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff says he regularly speaks with Nick Hayek, president of Swatch Group.

“We have not agreed on what we want to communicate and how we communicate it. I have big respect for what he is doing and I keep him informed about what we are doing. Communications are open,” he Mr Loris-Melikoff revealed today in a question and answer session following a launch webinar.

Mr Loris-Melikoff says the new Baselworld show will be much less expensive for exhibitors, and will offer the option of pre-packaged stands for watch, jewellery and gems businesses.

Pre-pack exhibition booths are being offered that will dramatically reduce the cost of participating at Baselworld. The concept was widely welcomed when it was announced in 2019.

He says that 80% of stakeholders that were planning to participate in the cancelled 2020 Baselworld wanted it to be cheaper and less complicated.

Mr Loris-Melikoff said that even smaller brands typically used to spend $1 million on square metre space at Baselworld, designing, building and storing their own stands, and running the booth for the week of the show.

Swatch Group brands last appeared in 2018, but Baselworld officials are in regular conversation with the group.

No exhibitors were announced today, but Mr Loris-Melikoff said he expects mid-market and mass production watch brands to participate along with jewellery and gems businesses. There will also be a focus on technology and business solutions for retailers.

Broadly, the expectation is for the show to be one third watches, one third jewellery and one third gems.

There is certainly a gap in the market for a global trade fair. Baselworld in its pomp attracted over 1,500 exhibitors. Watches and Wonders Geneva would have had fewer than 40 if it had taken place this year.

The difficulty is that, with Richemont, LVMH, Swatch Group, Rolex/Tudor, Breitling, Chopard, Chanel and several of the most prestigious independent watch brands expected to support Watches and Wonders Geneva in 2022 or do their own events, there are very few brands remaining with pulling power for retailers or the press.

Basel’s hotels have also left visitors with mental scars from the staggering prices they once charged during Baselworld, and their refusal to refund bookings made for 2020 in a timely way.

Mr Loris-Melikoff promises that things will be better in 2022. “Nobody is going to pay five times the price of an average hotel room,” he says.

“Basel Tourism is very excited that we keep the name Basel. We invested a lot of time in the hospitality of Basel. Because of covid, it has been easier to make all stakeholders in tourism and hotels understand that it is important to change the pricing and the way we welcome people to the city. We are really happy about the collaboration,” he adds.

In a sign of trouble ahead, a search by WatchPro today for rooms at Les Trois Rois hotel — much favored by all the Rolex authorized dealers that attended Baselworld in the past — found no availability from March 30 to April 4, 2022. Hotels.com showed only one hotel and one apartment hotel, rated at 4- or 5-stars, with availability for the same dates.

Baselworld goes global

It was also revealed today that MCH Group intends to launch additional events outside of Switzerland, possibly under the Baselworld name.

Replying to a question from WatchPro, Mr Loris-Melikoff disclosed: “There will be new shows, new platforms in the United States and in Asia.”

Sales for the 2022 Baselworld begin today, and the team will hope that it can offer an attractive alternative to Watches and Wonders Geneva while aiming to get the benefit of the global watch and jewellery community being in Switzerland at the end of March. “It is very important to organize at the same time as Watches and Wonders. It does not make sense to make everybody travel to Switzerland twice. Participating brands now have a choice. It is a free market. They will make decisions based on the best price, the best experience,” Mr Loris-Melikoff concludes.

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