Geneva Watch Days 2020 Is On: Good News Or *Covid-19 Cough* Desperate, Short-Sighted, Money Grab?
by Ian Skellern
My 2020 (so far) regarding the Covid-19 coronavirus:
February 2020: a month of woe
February 3: Swatch Group’s Time to Move in Zürich cancelled
I was looking forward to this three-day event in Zürich with my colleague Martin Green, and we had non-refundable flights and hotel booked and paid for. They seemed like such a bargain when booking and what were the chances? Lesson learnt. Back then (all of one month ago at time of writing), the Covid-19 coronavirus still seemed far away from Europe. And the event was not likely to be packed with bustling people like SIHH/Watches & Wonders and Baselworld.
February 12: Grand Seiko Summit in Tokyo cancelled for our editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr
By this time it was evident that the Covid-19 was spreading, and we were fully expecting cancellation of editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr’s trip to Seiko in Japan. It also became fairly evident that it was now a matter of when, not if, Watches & Wonders and the SIHH would be cancelled.
February 27: Watches & Wonders (ex-SIHH) cancelled
My first reaction on hearing the news was, “About time.” I can now cancel travel and accommodations bookings and make alternative arrangements to visit brands and watchmakers when it’s safer (for all) to travel.
My second reaction was, “Why didn’t Watches & Wonders and Baselworld make a joint statement?” That seemed to be a crazy strategy by Baselworld to me, especially as everyone expected with a degree of certainty that it would be cancelled.
While no doubt driven by factors that we know little about from the outside, Baselworld’s lack of – or slowness in – announcing a joint statement looked desperate, indecisive, and highlighted that the agreement between Baselworld and Watches & Wonders regarding coordinating dates was more fragile than we might have thought.
February 28: Baselworld canceled, precipitated by the Swiss government’s announcement on a ban of large events and gatherings (1,000 people and more) due to the Covid-19 coronavirus
At least that didn’t take too long in coming, I thought when the news of the Baselworld 2020 cancellation broke. Sorry, postponed in the parlance of the press release: “Baselworld 2020 is postponed to 2021 rather than canceled.” Presumably Baselworld 2021 will be branded Baselworld 2020.
As Covid-19 spreads worldwide, I was thankful that the wait and uncertainty was over. I can cancel my travel and accommodation bookings and move on and wait out (if we are lucky) this epidemic.
I also started thinking that the biggest danger to Watches & Wonders and Baselworld in canceling their 2020 fairs isn’t the loss of revenue (that’s a tsunami by itself), it’s in having the brands learn that they don’t need the big fairs as much as they thought.
Which would not bode well for the big Swiss fairs in 2021 – when they will need a stellar year.
Geneva Watch Days 2020 is on: finally some good news?
March 2: Geneva Watch Days 2020 (same time as Watches & Wonders/SIHH would have been) is on!
First thought, “Great news!” I (luckily) hadn’t yet cancelled my Geneva accommodation, and a few days in Geneva visiting brand boutiques and hotel suites seems both a pleasure and a doddle compared to a hectic two weeks of back-to-back Watches & Wonders and Baselworld. Win, win!
But then again . . . there really is that bad virus still spreading strongly and is much likelier (for those so far unaffected) to get worse over the next couple of months before it gets better.
I started thinking, “the ONE factor – aside from personal hygiene and lifestyle – we all know that slows down, and sometimes even stops, a virus from spreading is contact between people, especially contact with people that may, many unknowingly, have the virus.”
On February 28, just before and no doubt precipitating Baselworld’s following cancellation, the Swiss government announced a ban on large-scale public and private events due to concerns related to Covid-19.
That Swiss government ban does not apply to smaller events, smaller events like those “distributed” (around town in boutiques and hotels) during Geneva Watch Days 2020. With all of the brands distributed/spread around the city (and beyond), there would be no large congregation of people intermixing, so risk of cross contamination would be low.
But who are they kidding?
It’s just a workaround of the ban on large-scale gatherings. There is little difference from a spreading-virus perspective between a large-scale gathering and intermingling of people in one large area and a large-scale gathering and intermingling of people spread over a wider area. Except to make the chances of contagion even worse by adding in all the people and environments encountered while traveling between distributed brand presentations.
The event may well be decentralized, but retailers, journalists and watch lovers flit from brand to brand like busy bees. And you do not brand and market an event, even a “distributed” event, for a just a few people. Geneva Watch Days 2020 wants as many visitors as possible to help minimize the participating brands’ significant costs. And the brands want to see their retailers to try and minimize the present uncertainty about just how hard sales will be hit by this virus in 2020 and beyond.
Less travel means less travel, unless . . .
We should be traveling less over the next couple of months (at least), and Geneva Watch Days in late April 2020 encourages more. It’s unfortunate, but as hard as it is for some brands to accept, it isn’t business as usual. It’s not even close. Covid-19 is likely to be (if not already is) a small catastrophe for the watch industry, among many others.
Even if it’s now too late to stop the spread of this coronavirus, we can slow it down by:
1. Personal hygiene, especially thorough hand washing
2. Sleeping well, which significantly improves your body’s immune system
3. Traveling and mixing with people less
While difficult to implement, those three suggestions aren’t rocket science to understand. And Geneva Watch Days (possibly irresponsibly) will encourage more travel and intermixing.
1. The risk of acquiring the disease for people from the EU/EEA and the UK travelling/resident in areas with no cases, or multiple imported cases, or limited local transmission is currently considered low to moderate.
2. The risk for people from the EU/EEA and the UK travelling/resident in areas with more widespread local transmission is currently considered to be high.
3. The risk of the occurrence of clusters associated with Covid-19 in other countries in the EU/EEA and the UK is currently considered moderate to high.
So, from initially being enthusiastically for, I ended feeling against Geneva Watch Days. Why put anyone’s health at risk, especially with perhaps little in return but a few photos and a persistent cough?
But I’m still undecided enough not to have cancelled my Geneva Airbnb for late April. The pull of attending is strong, and I have sunk costs myself. And I’m in relatively good health and living in a country – Switzerland/France (I’m transitioning) – with an excellent health care system.
And the dilemma Geneva Watch Days 2020 poses is only in scale, not in kind. Every year the SIHH, especially when in January, was known for the amount of flu going around. That was just seen as cost of doing business. In April 2020, the cost might well be more. Is it still worth paying?
I’m seriously still undecided.
Of course, in the next couple of weeks there is another scenario in the cards, with the odds getting better each day: Geneva Watch Days 2020 announcing an embarrassing cancellation. That would take the decision out of my hands.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.