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CORDER’S COLUMN: Bye, bye Basel, you will not be missed

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You might think, as I have reported on the implosion of Baselworld over the past two years, that I have always disliked the show.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Like most executives I speak to in the global watch industry, I recall the awe I felt entering Hall 1.0 during the event’s heyday as the world’s biggest brands battled to project their power and prestige. It sent a shiver down my spine every year.

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I also admire its 100 year history; testament to its ability to bring people together to share their experiences over a beer and cervelat sausages.

The social side of Baselworld was withering long before Swatch Group walked out of the show in 2018 and was unrecognizable in 2019.

There used to be parties competing for A-list industry guests every night. Those without invitations congregated in hotel bars and pubs to nurse their bruised egos and chew over the news of the day.

Last year the pub where the British contingent congregates every year — affectionately and incorrectly dubbed The Pickwick — was half empty, when only a year earlier the crowd had spilled out onto the street.

Americans were thinner on the ground in the bar of Les Trois Rois (Three Kings) hotel than ever before, and most of them were grumbling about having to go to Zurich as well to see Swatch Group brands.

In short, Baselworld stopped being fun so we either stopped going or went for fewer days. Those of us still there spent every conversation reminiscing about the good old days and wishing we were elsewhere.

The city of Basel and its hospitality industry contributed to the decline of the show with their greed during the massive annual influx of wealthy foreigners.

But it is not really their fault because increased demand leads to higher prices in any market.

The fault was with MCH Group, which in 2013 redeveloped its exhibition space on a scale that the city could not accommodate.

In 2014, 150,000 people flocked to the show to see 1,500 exhibitors — an influx of 200,000 souls to a city with a population of 170,000.

This was the beginning of the end.

Prices soared for exhibitors and visitors so that MCH Group could recoup its $440 million investment and everybody began to ask themselves whether the annual pilgrimage to Basel was worth it anymore.

The city was never going to expand its hotel capacity because it attracts so few tourists when the mega fairs were not in town, and they were not going to decline the windfalls that come with the shows.

It was the conundrum that could never be solved, so MCH Group is right to find a new city and a new name for the show.

I hope it is able to move in alongside Watches & Wonders in Geneva next year because there are hundreds of watch and jewelry brands that need to exhibit in the close orbit of giants like Rolex, Cartier and Patek Philippe. Gems and equipment companies need to gravitational pull of these companies even more.

EXCLUSIVE: Baselworld name abandoned as organizer contemplates a new format in a fresh location

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder