Baselworld Faces Blowback Over Refund Policies

On Feb. 28, Baselworld canceled its April 2020 watch fair due to the fears of the coronavirus and announced the next edition would be held Jan. 28–Feb. 2, 2021.

Now, exhibitors to the Swiss show are up in arms, griping that the fair isn’t giving full refunds for the canceled show, and that the new dates don’t work for many of them.

The refund policy, announced by show owner MCH Group on April 3, lets exhibitors choose between two options. In the first option, 85% of the money they spent on Baselworld 2020 can be carried forward to next year’s fair. The other 15% will be forfeited to the show, to “partially offset [show] out-of-pocket costs already accrued,” and will presumably have to be paid by the exhibitor again.

In the second option, exhibitors will get 30% of their cash outlay refunded, with 40% carried forwarded to next year’s show, and the other 30% also offsetting the show’s out-of-pocket costs.

These conditions “go far beyond contractual obligations (general terms and conditions) and are much more generous than the vast majority of similar European shows that had to be canceled or postponed,” said show managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff in a statement posted by show owner MCH Group.

But that just rankled exhibitors, some of whom say they may not be able to attend next year’s fair, since the new dates conflict with the Miami Beach Antique Show, which will take place next year on Jan. 22–26; the Vicenza fair, which has been booked for Jan. 22–27; and the Tucson Gem Show, which will be held Feb. 2–7, 2021.

They gripe that neither option offers a full refund for exhibitors who won’t be able to attend next year’s show. They also complained that they were given until April 30 to make their choice, which they called a too-tight deadline.

A letter send to show management on behalf of 68 exhibitors said that “none of us were consulted about the new dates. The new show timing poses an immense conflict and stress for many Basel buyers and exhibitors.”

It asked that the show dates be moved or that exhibitors “be able to cancel our participation to the January Basel show for a full refund.”

“We all have our own businesses, which have taken losses during these times,” it concluded. “We do not agree to sharing in your own losses.”

Perhaps more ominously, Hubert J. du Plessix, the director of investment for Rolex—arguably the fair’s most important exhibitor—and president of the Baselworld exhibitor’s committee, slammed the new policy in a letter reposted in Swiss newspaper Le Temps.

If full refunds aren’t granted, he wrote, “we fear that this will be the end, pure and simple, of Baselworld, especially since the dates chosen in January 2021 are not suitable for the jewelry, gemstones and pearls sector, and that coordination with Watches & Wonders (SIHH) no longer exists.”

He added that the “lack of consideration on the part of the leaders of the MCH Group unfortunately recalls an era that we thought was over.”

Baselworld’s Loris-Melikoff defended the decision the next day in Le Temps, noting that MCH had already laid out $10 million to upgrade the fair. “It is impossible to reimburse the full amount. If I do, I jeopardize Baselworld.… [A]fter such a [bad year], the industry will need a platform to sell its products.”

He said that he took offense to the “lack of consideration” remark, claiming that the show has consulted with exhibitors.

“When you have 600 customers, you can’t chat with everyone, especially when the crisis changes things day by day,” Loris-Melikoff said. “Anyway, you know the problem: With 600 exhibitors, you will get 650 different opinions.”

Still, he kept the door open that Baselworld could backtrack. “If another solution is viable,” he said, “we will take it into account.”

Neither Rolex nor the Baselworld fair returned requests for comment by publication time.

(Image courtesy of Baselworld)

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