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Baselworld: the SARS epidemic caused a major stir

Published on 11/16/2016 by
Baselworld in Zürich, 2003 (MCH Group)

The announcement on 1 April 2003 was unfortunately not an April Fools' hoax. Two days before the opening of Baselworld, the Federal Office of Public Health took a decision, in the light of the rampant SARS epidemic, that was to prove devastating for the world show.

For the first time, the globally leading watch and jewellery show was to be staged not only in Basel, but in Zurich too, under the motto "One Show – Two Locations".  It was thus to set a milestone in the history of Swiss exhibitions. Then came the order from the Federal Office of Public Health: because of the SARS epidemic raging in Asia, exhibitors were not permitted to employ any staff who had travelled from China, Hong Kong, Vietnam or Singapore. No fewer than 3000 people were affected by this – primarily at the Zurich location.

The evening before the show opened, it was only possible to set up half of the 800 exhibitors' stands in Zurich. The delegation from Hong Kong, the biggest exhibitor group at the time, went back home again with their mission unaccomplished. Half the exhibition space in Messe Zürich remained empty. Visitor numbers fell by 22 percent. And equally devastating: Baselworld's good reputation in Asia had been greatly tarnished.

This was only restored again thanks to the intensive endeavours undertaken by the exhibition management. The Zurich location had to be abandoned as part of Baselworld. Instead, from 2004 onwards, additional exhibition space was rented in Basel for a number of years, and Hall 6 was converted to provide a new location for the country pavilions. The investments and endeavours paid off: the Asian exhibitors remained faithful to Baselworld.

The SARS epidemic of 2002/2003 cost more than 1300 lives.

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