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Baselworld reacts to Swatch Group’s departure, announces changes

By Marjorie van Elven

Jul 31, 2018

“Annual watch fairs, as they exist today, no longer make much sense. This does not mean that they should disappear. But it is necessary that they reinvent themselves”. With this harsh comment, Swatch Group, one of the world’s largest watchmakers, announced its departure from the Baselworld trade show yesterday. But the show’s organizers did not take the criticism silently. MCH Group, the marketing company behind Baselworld and 40 other trade fairs, has issued a statement to respond to Swatch Group’s exit.

“We extraordinarily regret Swatch Group’s decision. The cancellation is all the more surprising for us because this news reached us at a point in time when new management has arrived with a new team, new esprit and many new ideas”, said René Kamm, CEO of the MCH Group, in the statement. The fair has appointed a new managing director, Michel Loris-Melikoff, on July 1.

Swatch Group’s departure is a huge blow to the world’s biggest watch and jewelry fair, as the Swiss watchmaker represents 18 prominent brands, including Omega, Tissot, Longines, Rago, Breguet and Blancpain. Baselworld has already seen a number of brands leave in 2017: this year’s show featured nearly 50 percent less exhibitors than the previous edition. It also received 500 less visitors than in 2017.

“Nevertheless, we are convinced by our new concept, which is supported by other big Swiss watch brands”, said Loris-Melikoff in the statement. The new CEO added that he is “very combative” and will make every effort to guarantee a successful event next year. “I hope that a successful edition of Baselworld in 2019 will motivate Swatch Group to again participate in the show in the future”.

Baselworld to implement changes following exhibitors’ withdrawals

But what exactly does Baselworld’s “new concept” entail? To start, organizers have promised a new area called “Show Plaza”, set to feature a 240 degree-catwalk equipped with LED screens which they claim will make it possible for exhibitors to showcase jewelry in innovative ways. “This area will also be used for a wholly revised press day and a Retailer Summit, which takes place for the first time”, added Loris-Melikoff.

The fair has also pledged to implement a new communications strategy, based on “innovative digital formats” which would offer brands a stage for their products all year round. Baselworld’s chatbot service, debuted in 2018 to help visitors find relevant information about exhibitors, would also be expanded to include more functionalities, such as ticketing and navigation.

Changes in regards to accommodation and food are also in the pipeline. Loris-Melikoff said he’s in talks with representatives of Basel’s hotel industry, trying to guarantee “a reasonable price level’ for the fair’s visitors. In return, Baselworld would recommend these hotels and restaurants to its partners. Organizers are also looking to improve catering options and move the catering area from the fair’s periphery to the center.

Picture: Swatch Facebook