Ok, Baselworld, I think we can agree that the shit done got real. After the mighty watchmaking juggernaut that is the Swatch Group pulled out of your fair, taking with it all 18 of its brands and creating a massive financial hole in your balance sheet, medium-sized companies like Raymond Weil and Corum have decided to follow suit, no longer seeing the value in a trade show that is at risk of becoming an anachronism. So, can we concur that it’s time for a change?
Like Khabib Nurmagomedov jumping out of the cage at UFC 229 after finishing Conor McGregor, there’s got to be some dawning sense that you may have made a tactical miscalculation here. And as a beleaguered Desi Arnaz chastising his wayward spouse Lucille Ball says: “You got some ’splainin to do.”
Personally, if I knew that the CEO of the world’s mightiest watch group was less than satisfied with me, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I’d be up tossing and turning and trying to find a way back into his good graces. I would be up at the crack of dawn waxing his car, greeting him with a basket of home-baked scones and a detailed plan of how we could turn things around. But anyway, that ship has sailed, and we need to look forward. Like Tom Cruise’s Vincent says to Jamie Foxx’s Max in Collateral (2004): “Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.” And Baselworld, roll you must… hopefully into a brighter future.
You’ve already made some noises about change — for one you’ve just announced a change in your dates as of 2020, when Baselworld will follow immediately after SIHH (SIHH, 26 to 29 April in Geneva; Baselworld, 30 April to 5 May in Basel); at least until 2024. I appreciate that you’ve obviously engaged with SIHH to orchestrate this and I, also, appreciate that both fairs are now going to require my teams from around the world to travel only once to Switzerland, and in the more favorable spring time. But I will point out the obvious fact that you’ve said nothing of how you are actually going to make changes to improve your actual fair. This “synchronization” that’s been announced is nothing new, it’s basically how both shows were done before 2009.
Beefed Up SIHH
SIHH 2018 saw an extensive overhaul of the fair facilities, with heightened security, larger entrance ways and reception areas.
For members of the press, a great deal has been done to make reporting from on the ground a lot easier with better internet service and even a more decked out press room.
But the best bit may be the well lit booths created all across the fair floors, called “White Box” where you can do quick photography for social media, or use the space to film interviews.
The first step to fixing any problem is recognizing that there is a problem. And while no one expects you to apologize or to open up your Swiss-German kimonos and hara-kiri yourselves in the name of past transgressions, it strikes me that you have a massive opportunity to turn the page at Baselworld 2019. What would I do if I were you? Well, the first thing I would do is set up an external committee for coming up with ideas to make Basel better, comprising individuals from different parts of the watch industry — journalists, distributors, retailers and brands all sharing their perspective. While you’re at it, ask the guys from SIHH too. They’ve taken some phenomenal steps forward as of their 2018 fair.
Then I would do five simple things which, if you actually commit to, will demonstrate that you are serious about making the change. First, I would set up the most powerful high-bandwidth Wi-Fi in the known universe and, as an act of contrition, I would give it away to everyone for free. Why? Because then journalists will be able to create maximum awareness for the ticking works of art offered up by the Swiss watch industry to millions of eyes instantly. Similarly, retailers could reach out to their end customers with these watches to stoke the fires of desire so necessary for this industry’s future. And please stop with this asinine and duplicitous practice of having terrible Wi-Fi and then charging brands a premium to set up their own systems. Everyone can see that this is just a scam, and not even a particularly imaginative one at that. I’m sure you can do some deal with Swisscom where they have a pop-up ad and will essentially give you the most damnably powerful Wi-Fi imaginable for free in return for letting them sell SIM cards outside the hall (which would be genuinely useful).
Second, the question on everyone’s minds is what are you going to do with the big central area now evacuated by Swatch Group? Here’s what you need to consider. Creating a big, beautiful, modern, multi-use meeting space with social-media-optimized areas and great lighting where people can conduct interviews and shoot their favorite watches. Putting in comfortable seating areas — because you know what you are missing from your halls, Baselworld? Yes, dammit, chairs! Have you ever walked by the corridors on either side of Hall 1 and seen the people camped out on hard, inhospitable, prison-like, metal benches, their shoes off and on the brink of physical collapse? Do the right thing and give people places to sit and rest.
Third, Basel, you need to understand something: the food at your fair sucks. I am not suggesting that like Geneva’s SIHH you need to bestow endless flutes of champagne and trays of sushi upon us. But in general, the food options within your fair and immediately outside of it are simply vile. So, here’s an idea — why not invite the best food trucks or pop-up restaurants to open kiosks outside the fair? There should be a proper burger stand, a Mexican food truck, Neapolitan pizza, Korean fare, Vietnamese Banh Mi and Dim Sum. Seriously, if you invited these trucks and gave them permission to set up shop with your huge captive audience, you don’t think they’d come?
Fourth, get the Basel government to decree that the city’s hotels can no longer jack up their rack rate by a ludicrous 300 per cent and compel people who stay there to pay for the full duration of the fair even if they are only there for a few days or blackmail them to hold events in the hotel to secure their reservations. There is another word for that kind of behavior: extortion. It is immoral and you need to put an end to it.
Finally, it dawns on me that your 100th anniversary has come and gone, and you did nothing about it. No celebration, no thank you and nothing given back to the community that has supported you for more than a century of your existence. So, at Baselworld 2019, I suggest that you hold three successive days of after-parties. For two hours after the fair closes each day, give away free beer so the watch community can see that you recognize its effort to ensure your future.
And you know the sausages? The world’s most expensive ones that you sell outside the fair? Hell, in an act of ultimate largesse why not just give them away? It may be just a couple of beers and a complimentary tube of processed meat, but it would be a great first gesture to demonstrate that you actually care about us and appreciate us coming from all around the world every year to support you at considerable personal expense. Something that we will continue to do. For now.