ZURICH (Reuters) - More and more brands are deserting the Baselworld watch fair held every March, blaming high costs and insufficient returns, while high-end players seek refuge at the rival fair in Geneva.
The number of exhibitors dropped to 1,300 this year from 1,500 in 2016, and participation is expected to fall further as more brands announce their retreat, the latest deserters being independents Eberhard & Co and Louis Erard.
“Baselworld organizers were expecting the number of exhibitors to drop by 30-60 percent next year,” Mario Peserico, head of the Eberhard brand, told Reuters on Thursday.
Eberhard is ending 70 years of participation at Baselword, which traces its history back to 1917.
“It was a painful decision,” Peserico said, “but the costs were so high -- 1 million Swiss francs ($1.02 million) last year -- and there are fewer buyers and journalists there each year.”
Swiss watchmakers are only slowly emerging from a severe downturn in demand, making it hard for smaller and independent brands to pay the high costs in Basel.
Baselworld organizers declined to comment, saying only that “decisive adjustments to the show concept are being worked out”.
But while Baselworld shrinks, the SIHH Geneva watch fair -- held in January and dominated by Richemont’s high-end brands -- is growing to 34 exhibitors next year.
French luxury group Hermes is exhibiting its timepieces in Geneva instead of at Baselworld next year, citing “the spirit of openness shown by the SIHH over the last two years”.
The SIHH welcomed Kering’s Ulysse Nardin and Girard Perregaux brands through its doors this year and started hosting small independent brands in 2016.
The two shows are difficult to compare because Baselworld is a huge public event, while SIHH is much more selective and upmarket. It only started opening to the public this year, on the last day of the show.
LVMH’s watch brands displayed their products on a boat in downtown Geneva last January to take advantage of retailers’ and journalists’ presence at the SIHH.
Recent research by Deloitte suggests that the SIHH may also be taking the lead in the digital area.
“At this year’s SIHH, social media played an important role,” Deloitte said, citing the live streaming of the opening ceremony and Richemont brands interacting with customers via social media throughout the show.
Last month Richemont hired Rewe Digital’s Jean-Jacques van Oosten for the new role of chief technology officer to boost its digital development.
Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by David Goodman