And how the RAI is preparing for the eventual resumption of events
With an impressive range of events booked both in the Netherlands and abroad, 2020 promised to be an extraordinarily busy year for RAI Amsterdam. The outbreak of a global pandemic rapidly put paid to these prospects. Normally the platform of choice for mission-driven top sectors in the Netherlands, the exhibition and convention centre was instead used primarily as a testing and vaccination facility in the fight against COVID.
The way in which RAI Amsterdam applied itself more than ever to social goals in 2020 is clearly visible in its Annual Report. Since June 2020 the convention centre has been one of the largest COVID testing facilities in the Netherlands, welcoming over 400,000 people who came by bike, on foot and by car to be tested by the municipal health service GGD. This figure looks set to be exceeded in 2021 with the expansion of the rapid test facilities, and the RAI has been active as a vaccinating location since January too.
RAI shows its social side
In addition to being one of the most important GGD locations, the RAI also served as a facilitator and partner for various other initiatives throughout the year. This included providing space to Farmers for Neighbours, an initiative that offers healthy and affordable food from regional producers to vulnerable households in the city.
In addition, the RAI gave a new and valuable destination to a wide range of materials and products. Food (including from its own refrigerators) was donated to the Salvation Army and The Rainbow Group in order to feed the homeless. The new social distancing regulations created space issues for schools and colleges so the RAI facilitated lectures from the University of Amsterdam on its premises and allowed students from ROC Amsterdam to take practical classes in the RAI’s kitchens.
Surviving the crisis
While the doors were open for those initiatives that could take place, the RAI did everything in its power to guarantee continuity of the company and prepare for events once these are allowed again in the future. Firm action was required, which left it's mark. Paul Riemens, CEO of RAI Amsterdam: “2020 was a tough year. The crisis hit us hard and forced us to make some tough decisions, including a reorganisation that involved the departure of many dear employees. An extremely painful, but necessary decision to safeguard the financial position of the RAI.” With a more horizontal and compact organisation the RAI continued to work on projects which could be launched during the COVID crisis, such as The Stage is Yours and RAI Studios. A digital proposition was developed for organising and facilitating online and hybrid events so that meetings could take place both during and after the pandemic. Paul Riemens continues: "We proved quite resilient. As employees we have grown towards each other in a new way and we finding our way out of this crisis together".
Confident in the imminent return of events
The gradual easing of measures against COVID started in late April 2021, with the vaccination programme having reached the five million mark and the government expecting to have vaccinated the entire Dutch population by July. In the meantime, various test events have been held in a variety of setups to enable a quick return to the full operation of events with an increased visitor capacity. The first results are promising and the desire for success tangible.
RAI Amsterdam has its COVID protocol and scripts in place and is ready to begin again. With a well-filled event calendar that goes beyond 2025, the RAI will return to the world stage stronger than ever to bring people together, physically and virtually, facilitate the sharing of knowledge and inspire. We can hardly wait!