Rotterdam: the ‘living lab’ producing new conference chemistry

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Rotterdam: the ‘living lab’ producing new conference chemistry

Ramy Salameh reports on how Rotterdam is harnessing its port city zest to reinvent its events proposition.


Rotterdam is home to the world’s first floating farm, with 40 cows, a farmer and robots soon to be collecting manure and feeding cattle; while the city’s innovation district garners and aligns start-ups, incubators and accelerators with institutions and businesses.

All of this activity swirls around Europe’s largest (and smartest) port, which is working towards becoming the first C02 neutral port in the world, part of the authorities’ ‘energy transition’ strategy set for 2030.

Rotterdam sees itself as a Living Lab and a focal point of urban innovation and sustainability. It is a city that encourages experimental projects spanning everything from the ‘circular economy’ to ‘Resilience’ and is one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities.

Rotterdam’s youthful vibe and zest is also evident in the cutting-edge architectural landmarks that dominate the skyline.

The city’s arts and culture scene saw it host the 20th edition of ‘Art Rotterdam Week’ recently, part of a year-round programme of festivals and events.

It is no surprise, in this context, that The Netherland’s second city has been capturing some big MICE wins and turning heads away from the capital, Amsterdam.

Meeting planners are clearly seeing something new, raw and relevant when considering the city. “Rotterdam being a ‘smart city’ is an incentive, but as The Netherlands prides itself on green initiatives and other cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen are also well known for their sustainable practices, this in itself is not enough.

The differentiator with Rotterdam is its drive for sustainability, combined with its unique architecture and urban vibe, and lower costs compared to more popular destinations,” says Paul Stoddart, Managing Director, CWT Meetings & Events, UK, Ireland & Benelux.

What has limited Rotterdam before, in terms of capacity to host the mega-events, is now being addressed with new venue developments.

“The differentiator with Rotterdam is its drive for sustainability, combined with its unique architecture and urban vibe, and lower costs compared to more popular destinations”

Rotterdam Ahoy will add a new Congress and Convention centre in late 2020 and will feature The Netherlands’ largest auditorium, which, when combined with the existing halls and arena, has already launched Rotterdam into a wider bidding pool for conventions and tradeshows.

A recent win to come off the back of Ahoy’s development is the ‘ASME Turbo Expo Conference 2022’, focusing on turbines and energy.

The 1930’s Van Nelle Factory, the primary venue for Art Rotterdam Week, received its UNESCO World Heritage status in 2014, a rarity for a former factory complex.

Rogier Swerissen, Teamleader Sales of Van Nelle events, says: “There can be few UNESCO World heritage venues available for MICE events, and even fewer that organise go-karting or a special forces drugs sting demo with helicopters landing in the car park, part of the International Drug Enforcement Conference (IDEC) we hosted.”

Catherine Kalamidas, from Rotterdam Partners CVB, adds: “We see the pursuit of congresses with a focus on our top sectors and inter-sectoral concepts and disciplines as a way to continually strengthen them, contributing to our efforts toward a future-proof city.”

This vision can be seen in the way art is appreciated in Rotterdam, with the arrival of ‘Bojimans Van Beuningen Depot’ in early 2021 in the Museumpark. It will be the world’s first publicly accessible art storage facility, housing Museum Bojimans Van Beuningen’s collection of 151,000 artworks.

In 2016, Rotterdam’s modernist cultural appeal saw Lonely Planet vote it a ‘Best in Travel’ top-10 city and, shortly after, accessibility to the city, was boosted by the arrival of Eurostar into Centraal Station. The city was also chosen to be the European seat of Boston’s Cambridge Innovation Centre and the home of the UN Global Centre of Excellence for Climate Adaptation.

The climate for conferencing in Rotterdam is certainly looking rather more clement.

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