BaselWorld Drops ‘Two Cities’ Plan; Gets Sued

BaselWorld, the international Swiss watch and jewelry fair, has dropped its heavily promoted “One Show, Two Cities” plan and says its 25 national pavilions will return to Basel, Switzerland, for the 2004 show, slated for April 15–22.

“BaselWorld will be held exclusively in Basel in the future,” said a July 9 statement by the show’s owner, MCH Swiss Exhibition. MCH will create a sixth exhibition hall for the national delegations’ “Hall of the Universe,” close to Swiss Exhibition’s current exhibition center in Basel.

The “Two Cities” plan was designed to provide more space in Basel’s show halls for its prestigious watch and jewelry brands by shifting the national delegations to an exhibition center in Zurich, Switzerland.

However, the April debut in Zurich of the “Hall of the Universe” (about 800 firms) was derailed when the Swiss government banned Asian exhibitors (about half the foreign vendors) to prevent the possible spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The 380 Hong Kong exhibitors, the largest group, threatened to permanently leave the fair if it continued to be held in Zurich, whose health department had pushed the Swiss government to close the show.

Show management had long claimed the two-city plan was necessary because there was no room for expansion in Basel. According to the July 9 statement, however, Swiss Exhibition “three years ago investigated several potential sites in Basel” in response to exhibitors’ demand for more space. “None were appropriate or available at that time,” it notes. “However, due in part to the current economic climate, a suitable place has recently been identified and will be developed the for the 2004 show.”

Hong Kong plans to return. A “provisional agreement” has been reached between the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and Switzerland’s BaselWorld fair for Hong Kong’s participation “on a long-term basis,” according to an announcement by the HKTDC’s regional office in Frankfurt, Germany. HKTDC officials had been negotiating for weeks with MCH Swiss Exhibition Ltd., owner and organizer of BaselWorld.

The new agreement has been approved by HKTDC’s governing board but at press time needed the endorsement of the six Hong Kong watch and jewelry industry associations that were involved in the 2003 event at Zurich. Key elements of the provisional agreement include a return to Basel in a new “trade show” hall located within walking distance of the main Basel fairground; first choice of space and position in that new building for the Hong Kong delegation; and fixed participation fees, in Swiss francs, for the next six years.

“Our aim is to return to Basel, and right now we are working together with the fair authorities to make this return possible,” JCK was told by Lore Buscher, director of the HKTDC regional office in Frankfurt, Germany, which organizes its participation in the annual global show.

“We very much appreciate the decision of MCH Swiss Exhibition Ltd. to host the entire show in Basel again,” said Buscher. “After the de facto exclusion of Hong Kong exhibitors during this year’s BaselWorld, Zurich was no alternative for us anymore.”

Zurich claims fair violated SARS ban. A formal complaint has been made against MCH Swiss Exhibition Ltd. for allegedly failing to “implement correctly” Swiss government measures this spring to prevent the spread of the SARS infection.

The complaint was filed June 30 by the health department of Zurich. Four days before BaselWorld 2003 opened, Zurich had asked the Swiss government to order it shut down, concerned that some of the Asian exhibitors in Zurich might have the contagious SARS virus. Though BaselWorld and its Asian exhibitors had already implemented required health measures, the Swiss government imposed new restrictive measures that barred participation by Asian exhibitors and their staffs in Zurich. (No restrictions were imposed by the government on Asian visitors or buyers in either show location.) Both the Basel Fair and the Hong Kong delegation in May filed formal appeals challenging the Swiss government’s actions and say legal actions probably will follow.

In their June 30 complaint, Zurich authorities allege Swiss Exhibition “failed to implement correctly the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health ruling.” Despite the government ban, they claim, Asian exhibitors from SARS-affected countries had worked at BaselWorld’s site in Zurich and cited “about 30 violations” of the order.

In a July 1 response, Swiss Exhibition said it was “both surprised and disappointed” by Zurich’s accusations. During BaselWorld 2003, it said, “Swiss Exhibition did everything to implement correctly” the Swiss government’s April 1 ruling. It “distributed the [government’s] ruling, including recommendations and measures, several times to all exhibiting companies … carried out its own controls every day and when necessary, forbade persons affected from working on the exhibition stand.”

Swiss Exhibition said authorities in both Basel and Zurich earlier had “confirmed … several times that the ruling had been entirely correctly implemented” by the Fair’s management.