A trade fair stumbles - is Baselworld losing its relevance?


by Nils Rau

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February 28. 2019 - by Nils Rau

2018 was not a good year for Baselworld: various manufacturers announced at regular intervals that they would no longer be exhibiting at the world's largest watch fair. This was followed by a change in personnel and, above all, a lot of speculation about the future. With the next Baselworld just around the corner, read ahead and discover our expectation for 2019.


A trade fair with less and less significance?

Last year, Baselworld already had to drastically reduce its size: Instead of 1300 exhibitors in the previous year, the fair recorded only 650 exhibitors in 2018. And after the legendary March fair was over, numerous announcements were made by various watch manufacturers and groups to refrain from Baselworld in the future.

One thing is certain: it is not only Baselworld's strategy that is responsible for this downward spiral. It is also the "trade fair" concept itself. The last decades have been marked by all-rounders for quite some time, there is a shift to a more specialised approach - specialism instead of generalism. This phenomenon can also be observed in the large department store chains. Massively popular at one point, though fighting for survival today. One of the reasons for this is the internet, which has accustomed us to having everything available to us instantly. However, only businesses that are catered to your exact needs which offer experiences with individual concepts are thriving today due to their ability to offer customers specialisation in their niche.

Of course, this development not only affects Baselworld, but also other trade fairs. But it is precisely in combination with the often criticised trade fair policy that Baselworld is particularly affected.

 

Does Baselworld have to reinvent itself?

If Baselworld is to remain the most successful trade fair, fundamental changes are needed. First of all, the concrete policy of the Exhibition Management itself will be affected: There have been repeated criticisms of the fact that exhibitors are subject to very high requirements, that stand costs are becoming more expensive year after year and that the operating company, MCH, is very reluctant to compromise. This went well for many years because Baselworld had a monopoly position in the world of watch fairs. But the last few years have shown that Baselworld's façade is gradually crumbling.

On the other hand, however, the fair must above all adapt to the new zeitgeist. In general, it can be said that this can be achieved above all by a different orientation. The Geneva-based competitor SIHH sets a good example. If you compare both the fairs, it is often said that the atmosphere at SIHH shines through with its unagitated, charming character. In connection with the SIHH, the keyword "all-round carefree package" is often used. In Basel, you have to take care of the visitors and make the fair an experience. If you come to the fair as a current visitor, you can’t do much other than walk along the trade fair routes and take a look at the manufacturers' shop windows. As a rule, only the press has access to the exhibition stands themselves.

Swatch Group: The biggest loss

When the Swatch Group announced that it was leaving Baselworld in July last year, serious fears arose for the first time in many quarters that Baselworld was about to close down. The Swatch Group brings together 18 brands and was the largest exhibitor at Baselworld. Starting this year, legendary watch brands such as Breguet, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Omega, Longines, Mido, Hamilton and Swatch will no longer be exhibiting in Basel.

In addition to a loss of attractiveness, this also means that the fair no longer has a central source of income. Baselworld is therefore in an extremely unpleasant situation, as the loss of financial resources must never be offset by further price increases for exhibitors. Even if the watch industry produced positive figures in 2018, Baselworld's management would still be pouring oil on the fire with this decision, ignoring the criticism of the exhibition management and risking the cancellation of other watch manufacturers.

Despite the cancellation of the Swatch Group, the interest in Baselworld remains enormous, thanks to the presence of the major watch manufacturers Rolex and Patek Philippe. There will be no watch journalist who decides not to visit Basel in March simply because the Swatch Group is absent. Against this backdrop, it is possible that the focus will shift more towards unknown and underdog brands and that Baselworld will be able to take advantage of the dwindling dominance of the big players - provided there is a corresponding change in its strategic perspective - and thus steer the trade fair a little further in the direction of the present zeitgeist.

Is Baselworld 2019 still relevant?

Simply put, of course Baselworld is still relevant. Numerous watch manufacturers are still represented in Basel. Despite all the criticism and negative forecasts, it is often forgotten that Baselworld is still the world's largest and most important watch fair.

In addition to Rolex and Patek Philippe, the LVMH Group will also be represented at the fair this year - so we can also look forward to novelties from TAG Heuer, Zenith and Hublot.

Nils Rau

by Nils Rau

Nils is a guest author for the CHRONEXT Journal. He currently dedicates most of his free time to wristwatches – be that talking with friends, browsing through blogs and online magazines, or keeping an eye on the timepiece stock exchange. When he is not contributing to the CHRONEXT Journal, he works as a junior lawyer in Northern Germany. His articles focus on brands, trends, as well as the philosophical questions within the world of fine watches.

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