Europa Star / Basel Tribune recently met René Kamm to talk about the plans and developments for the 2004 edition of the world's largest watch and jewel-lery fair BaselWorld. As we all remember, the year 2003 was a very difficult year for the fair. The general economic slump was aggravated by the war in Iraq, whose beginning coincided with the opening of the show. The SARS epidemic was a terrible blow to BaselWorld because the Swiss health authorities imposed draconian measures on the exhibitors from Hong Kong and a number of other Asian countries. Prohibited from working with dignity, the contingents from these nations refused to exhibit in the newly arranged halls in Zurich, for which BaselWorld had made major investments. Finding themselves in a critical situation, the management of the Swiss show had to find new and acceptable solutions.
Europa Star: Six months after the events that seriously affected the 2003 BaselWorld Fair, where are you now and what will the 2004 show be like?
René Kamm: The intention to separate the show into two cities, that is Basel plus Zurich, is dead and buried. I am certain that the concept was a good one, and that after two or three years, the idea would have been accepted and would have worked perfectly. But from an emotional standpoint, if I might say, Zurich is no longer 'saleable' to those exhibitors concerned. The watchmakers and jewellers from Hong Kong would absolutely not hear any more discussion about Zurich. For them, the experience in Zurich was a horrible nightmare. We must now draw a line through this idea and move on to find other solutions.
ES: One of the justifications given for the delocalization of the Fair was the chronic lack of space in Basel. Have things been miraculously arranged for the better?
RK: The problem of lack of space was real and the Zurich solution was in itself a viable one. But all crises also have certain positive aspects. In this case, it forced the Basel authorities to imperatively try and find a local resolution to the problem. With their active support, we were able to find a very interesting solution.
ES: So what is this solution?
RK: We have been able to utilize a very large building, with some 15,000 square metres, currently used as a merchandise warehouse by freight companies. In six years, it will become a major development operation in the entire semi-industrial zone where it is located. So now we can make use of this space for the next six years, which gives us time to find a definitive solution for the future. Another advantage of this location is that it is situated only five minutes from the other BaselWorld buildings and will be fully integrated into the main show. The efforts that we are making for this temporary project are quite considerable. We are spending more than 40 million Swiss francs, over six years for eight days a year!
ES: How are you going to justify this investment?
RK: We want to do something really spectacular. We are planning the entire arrangement of all the space in this new location, including the construction of the stands, which will be fixed, right up to the furniture itself. Qualitatively, this will be up to the level of what is being done by the brands in the other halls. This new 'Hall of Universe', or Hall 6, is intended to become a point of attraction for all the Fair's visitors. We want to create veritable 'worlds' that are consistent with the provenance of the exhibitors. There will be seven principal worlds: Hong Kong, Thailand, India, other Asian countries, Europe, United Stares and the Middle East. Within these worlds, subdivisions will be marked by different designs, as for example, in the case of Hong Kong where the watchmakers and jewellers will be on different sides. Public spaces will be created and upscale restaurants will propose various cuisines from around the world. A special marketing effort has been planned. Hall 6 will be a magnet to attract all our visitors. It can be reached on foot following a marked path, or by a small train that will run between the two locations.
ES: How has this plan been received by the various concerned parties, especially the Hong Kong exhibitors?
RK: With a space of 6,500 square metres that has been reserved for them, they will be particularly well received. A protocol agreement has just been ceremoniously signed between the HKTDC and ourselves during the Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair. It includes several provisions with which each exhibiting company must comply. Among them, I might mention a few: the renunciation of any future complaint against BaselWorld in relationship to the events of 2003 (the possibility to sue the Swiss health authorities is reserved) and a commitment to exhibit there for the next six years. This agreement draws a line through the past events and opens a new era. I am sure that the exhibitors, as well as the visitors, will agree to this solution.
ES: Are there any other major changes to be noted that concern the other Halls and sections of BaselWorld?
RK: In 2003, we finished all the qualitative transformations that we wanted to make. They meant major investments on the part of everyone, from the organisers as well as the exhibitors. The equilibrium and quality of the show are now thus guaranteed. BaselWorld definitively affirms itself as the universal and unchallenged rendezvous of the watch and jewellery professions and their related industries. There is nothing comparable to BaselWorld. We are therefore in a consolidation phase. Little or no changes are expected for 2004, besides any unexpected situations of an emerging or declining brand. Only a few punctual improvements are planned. Our strategy is not to increase the number of exhibitors but to constantly improve our services and favour those whose strategies look to the long term. As an example, I point out the spectacular return of the Bulgari group that has heavily invested for a minimum period of ten years.
ES: In 2003, you insisted on imposing a 'sectorization' of the Fair…
RK: This 'sectorization' has been highly appreciated by our visitors. It contributes to a clarification of the global offer. It allows us to provide spaces that are in line with the different policies and different brands. The rules that we want to impose allow each brand to express its creativity while respecting the necessary harmony of everyone. BaselWorld must give a global image of the industry while also permitting personal expression, by showcasing emerging or young designers, by introducing new brands investing in their future, as well as including various other propositions. A global show like ours is here to support and encourage the expressions of dynamism of the sector.
ES: But the divisions that you have chosen for this 'sectorization'...aren't they a little bit artificial?
RK: It is rather a willingness to subdivide and to create a hierarchy of the exhibitions within the watch and jewellery industries. The different names of the Halls are what they are, but I am sure that, little by little, they will be accepted. In any case, they have more meaning than the simple and abstract numbering of the Halls.
ES: Last year, we also noted the new name and identity of the Fair. The term 'BaselWorld' seemed to be accepted right away…
RK: We are delighted. Our goal is to make our show a total brand in and of itself. BaselWorld expresses simply and directly our universal vocation and distinguishes us from other 'fairs', 'exhibitions' and various other 'events'. Year after year, we want to strengthen the veritable brand that is BaselWorld.
ES: Is this a prelude to future initiatives that might see the light of day such as, for example, BaselWorld Miami or BaselWorld Kuala Lumpur?
RK: No. We have no specific plans for delocalizing the Fair. But, if we are to think ahead, we cannot exclude future developments. The term BaselWorld gives us the possibility to do so. However, our role is to concentrate our efforts on the global and uncontested event of the year. That is BaselWorld, period. Believe me, this is already a huge task.