Sky the only limit for the RAI

Europe Features
Sky the only limit for the RAI

RAI Amsterdam chief operating officer Maurits Van Der Sluis is enjoying getting back to business, with the Dutch government removing venue restrictions on delegate numbers from 1 July. He urges other European countries to follow suit.

RAI Amsterdam is one of first European venues to reopen and host events without having to restrict visitor number beyond the normal capacity.

The move, on 1 July, followed a further relaxation of coronavirus measures by the Dutch government.

The convention centre had already ensured that its complex is Covid-secure and able to function fully in line with all health and safety guidelines.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in March, the RAI has worked hard to adapt all its facilities and protocols to enable events to be held in a safe manner as soon as government regulations allowed.

Practical examples include wider aisles, placing floor markings in places where queues may form, making hand sanitiser available in all areas and increasing the number of registration points.

Management says that the variety of modes of transport to and from the centre also means that the rules regarding crowd management and social distancing can be properly monitored. Clear extra signage at key points en route to the venue’s entrances is also in place.

RAI Amsterdam chief operating officer Maurits van der Sluis is relieved that the RAI can now reopen its doors and tells CMW: “We are pleased with the relaxation of rules…and ready to organise and facilitate events in a safe and responsible manner while ensuring visitors receive a hospitable welcome. I am also delighted that we will again be opening our doors to the renowned international congress Money 20/20 in September.”

Money 20/20 Europe, organised by Ascential Group, is an international B2B convention which brings together
the entire payments, FinTech and financial services sector.

Running 22-24 September, the tried and trusted event concept will be adapted, but visitors will still be able to come into contact with a wide range of decision-makers and influencers, albeit at a safe distance that takes into account the latest guidelines.

Also on the RAI’s agenda for this autumn are various major international exhibitions from its own portfolio, including Interclean Amsterdam, the tradeshow for cleaning professionals (3-6 November) and METSTRADE (17-19 November), the world’s largest B2B platform for the leisure marine industry.

Third party events PLMA’s annual international ‘World of Private Label’ show and the medical conference EAGE (8-11 December), the world’s largest multi-disciplinary geoscience and engineering event are also taking place on their new December dates.

A ‘RAI Amsterdam – Safe, responsible and hospitable’ protocol explains the rules and guidelines for organising trade exhibitions, conferences, shows and meetings in the RAI complex.

With 125 years of experience organising and facilitating events, and the associated security and crowd management, the RAI has built up a strong reputation and welcomes an average of 1.5m visitors a year to around 500 events.

CMW asked COO Maurits van der Sluis about these past few months of lockdown and how his team had been coping during this crisis period?

“We have tried to anticipate the situation as much as possible in recent months. It has been very important to have a clear idea of the path forward and by maximising the efficiency of our business operations we have minimised and managed the costs as much as we could.

“Through webinars our exhibition teams have also seized the opportunity to stay in touch with various markets. Webinars and online updates are also the way we have been keeping in constant contact with our own staff.

“We opened our doors again on 1 July and are hosting two trial events with the 1.5 metre regulations in place.”

The COO says he has several teams working on the reopening and underlines that the venue’s corona protocol follows from the protocol that has been co-created with the wider event industry.

He describes the past few months as “an unreal situation” with employees working at home as much as possible.

“Only a few colleagues, from security, maintenance and cleaning were at work in the RAI buildings during the most part of the pandemic,” he says.

To the question of what kind of support the RAI has had from owners, government and industry stakeholders, Van der Sluis answers: “We are eligible for an arrangement from the Dutch government (NOW) to be able to pay salaries of the fixed and flex contracts and we have been talking to the banks in case this situation will take longer [to play out].”

The COO adds that, for the time being, no big investments are being made at the RAI due to the situation around Covid-19 and future plans have been put on hold.

In terms of cancellations and postponements, Van der Sluis says it has been a huge challenge for our Planning and Sales teams.

“For our own exhibition teams, we fine-tune all possibilities for relocation, making into account the best slots for the markets they are in. We also do this for our other customers. It really is a complex puzzle”.

Van der Sluis points out that RAI has been very busy using online tools to share information via webinars, and video conferencing. “Through this, customers are able to keep in touch with their communities locally and worldwide all year round,” he says. “The live/physical meeting remains an indispensable part of our business and, despite all the online possibilities to connect with each other, this is missed enormously by many people.

“In future, virtual connections will be an extension of all business models and should therefore be regarded as an enrichment, not a threat. Certainly, in the next few years we expect to be able to facilitate and organise more and more hybrid forms of events.

“Our own titles like Intertraffic, Greentech, Interclean and Aquatech have been using webinars quite successfully. Intertraffic, for instance, welcomed more than 700 visitors from more than 100 countries and 80% of those in attendance gave us a rating of 7/10 or higher.

“We have also been organising webinars with our partners in China.

“Internally, we have also run many virtual events.”

As far as impacts and trends expected in the coming months, Van der Sluis says his team is looking further ahead and asking itself questions, such as: ‘What if events are allowed to be organised again but cannot yet be visited by everyone, due to limitations in time, money or other reasons (such as travel restrictions)?’ and ‘How do we let people at home or office enjoy what is going on in the event hall and how can they participate all the same?’

“We are also focusing on the long term,” he says, “and asking what will definitely change; which behavioural changes can and must we respond to, in order to keep the RAI relevant and future-proof?”

As well as his role as COO at RAI Amsterdam, Maurits van der Sluis is also head of the European Major Exhibition Centres Association (EMECA), where he has been leading demands for event venues to be allowed to reopen from 1 September.

“We now see convention centres opening up again across Europe. The lobby in European countries helps with this and of course with the lobby in their own country,” he says.

“Government should recognise the economic spin-off for industry. Fairs and congresses make an important contribution to the recovery of the economy.”

Van der Sluis believes the corona crisis helped the events industry associations to raise their profile and become more effective at the art of political lobbying.

“In recent months there has been good co-operation between associations, such as UFI, EMECA, ICCA and SISO,” he notes.

“We have made the world aware of the importance of our industry and its impact on the world. The associations have certainly made a major contribution. We stand united. The awareness is now very visible. Normally we take it for granted.”

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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