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Editorial - Baselworld 2019 – a war of words

Editorial Baselworld 2019 – a war of words

Strong words from one CEO and the resignation of another put Baselworld in disarray.

Nick Hayek’s quote in the NZZ am Sonntag last week caused a stir in the watch industry. We learned on a sleepy Sunday morning that the world’s largest watchmaking group would not be attending the world’s largest watch fair on its own doorstep next year, clearly catching the folks at Baselworld unawares.

It was a baptism of fire for the exhibition’s new Managing Director, Michel Loris-Melikoff, who had been in the post for less than a month. The response came the following day in a press release which, in itself, further illustrated Baselworld’s woes. First, it was sent out after 6pm, after the close of daily business. Second, and more worryingly, despite the late hour it nevertheless seemed to have been prepared in haste and as a result lacked some key details that could have reassured other exhibitors and the industry as a whole. It promised, for example, “numerous new formats and ideas”, without saying what these formats and ideas are. 

What is clear from this press release, however, is that the exhibition space will once again be very different next year. Having moved from Hall 1.2 to Hall 1.1 this  year, “Les Ateliers” now makes it to the ground floor and will be housed in the south section of Hall 1.0, which was not used last year. Hall 1.1. will house “The Loop”, which will be an exhibition about watchmaking, but there is no mention of whether this will be on its own or in the large space vacated last year by a number of brands leaving. Hall 1.2 will be reopened for Baselworld to house a catwalk for jewellery presentations and a “wholly revised press day and a Retailer Summit”. Apparently, there will also be a “diverse selection of catering options”. But I imagine exhibitors currently have other priorities higher up their lists than what to eat during the show. 

In the meantime, Mr Hayek had further increased the severity of his rhetoric in a phone interview with CNBC earlier the same day. It was no longer just a question of not needing the exhibition, it was also a reaction to an “arrogant” management that treats its exhibitors as “people who just have to pay and say nothing.” Mr Hayek also said that Swatch Group would look for “more creative” alternatives to Baselworld, effectively taking over the work that he had been expecting of the exhibition organisers. He underscored that the group will definitely not be in Baselworld next year. Only time will tell whether this is a negotiating ploy to get better conditions or whether he really is serious.  

Mr Loris-Melikoff was keen to refute Mr Hayek’s allegations that exhibitors were not consulted about the changes, listing the various stages at which they had been presented with the plans (early May for the consultative committee, end of June for the Swiss exhibitors and 4th July for international exhibitors). He also referred to the presence of a “high-ranking manager from the Swatch Group” during these discussions, no doubt referring to Tissot’s CEO François Thiébaud, who is president of the Swiss Exhibitor’s Committee (a role he may well have to relinquish if his company is no longer an exhibitor). 

All in all, it would appear that the management of Baselworld 2019 have missed an opportunity, when all the industry’s attention is turned on them, to come out with a clear statement of intent and present the facts, however cold and hard they may be. What the watch industry, not to mention the shareholders of Baselworld’s parent company, MCH Group, need more than anything at the moment is clarity. With the announcement last Friday that René Kamm had resigned as its CEO, hopefully his successor will take this message on board. 

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