When Watch Fairs Are Canceled, Cities Lose Out, Too

The move online of shows like Watches and Wonders has affected more than just the watch industry.

For Geneva and Basel, these Swiss cities that have traditionally hosted the biggest watch fairs as well as other major gatherings such as the Geneva International Motor Show and Art Basel, the domino effect of a physical event – or the absence of an event – affects a wide range of other businesses, from airlines to laundry services that wash visitors’ sheets and towels.

“It’s a vast ecosystem,” said Adrien Genier, CEO of the private non-profit organization Geneva Tourism & Conventions. “It’s not just about hotels, cafes and restaurants. It’s much wider than that.

He said businesses affected included florists, bakers, grocers and limousine services, as well as catering companies that served off-site events usually held during watch fairs such as the predecessor of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. , Watches and Wonders which was commonly known as SIHH and Baselworld, now called Hour Universe.

The income that trade shows bring to a city are significant. For example, organizers said the last SIHH physical fair in Geneva – in 2019 – had 23,000 attendees. In general, according to a 2015 study commissioned by Mr. Genier’s organization, each visitor who has stayed in the best hotels in town spent an average of 450 Swiss francs (around $ 475) during their stay, not including fees. accommodation.

The effect on hotels has been particularly intense. The Hotel President Wilson, a 226-room luxury property in Geneva that was popular with overseas visitors, was generally full during SIHH and traditionally extended the opening hours of its restaurants and bars to accommodate visitors and guests. During the show, “Basically the hotel operates 24 hours a day,” said Pablo Pizarro, general manager of the hotel.

Accommodation in Switzerland, it must be said, can be expensive – especially in Basel, the subject of vigilante complaints about availability and prices for years. At Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, Basel’s five-star property that has been a popular spot at Baselworld, the normal price for a king-size bed room with Rhine view starts at 775 Swiss francs. In a typical year, the hotel said it received an average of 3,000 requests for its 101 rooms, starting a year in advance.

Of course, the online fairs have come at a time when Switzerland, like other countries, is reeling from the economic impact of Covid. In 2020, hotels across the country earned around 3.4 billion Swiss francs less than in 2019, according to Christophe Hans, public affairs manager at HotellerieSuisse, a Swiss professional organization.

In Switzerland, the effect of lockdowns and travel restrictions was felt most strongly in large cities like Geneva and Basel: hotel activity in these cities declined by 70% in 2020, compared to 2019 totals, according to Mr. Hans. (And 2021 might not be much better. The Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, for example, has been closed since November, although it is scheduled to reopen on April 12.)

Fairs that move online can impact cities like Geneva in other ways as well, Genier said. “The image of Geneva in the world being the cradle of watchmaking, and still alive and still its capital, can be detrimental to us if the physical fair is not organized.

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