The city of Rotterdam knows a thing or two about resilience and Ahoy, one of the Netherlands most prized venues, is no different. It has been a bumpy ride for the space and team of 250 event professionals, from being announced as the host of Eurovision 2020 to receiving the news of its cancellation to then being declared as the host of Eurovision 2021. We spoke with CEO Jolanda Jansen to see how this historic year has unfolded and what to expect next.
Rotterdam Ahoy is a unique venue in the Netherlands with a space that houses a combination of an Arena, Exhibition and Event halls and a Congress and Meeting Centre. Since 1971 it has accommodated big concerts such as the MTV EMA back in 2016, conferences, exhibits, presentations, congresses, tournaments and trade fairs - it's even participated in the Grand Départ of the Tour de France in 2010. Besides facilitating, Rotterdam Ahoy also organises events and trade fairs as well as offering a total concept experience. The Rotterdam staple has welcomed many international artists, top sports professionals, politicians and celebrities but its' team are "also the people of Rotterdam. Proud residents of a global city that is constantly being rediscovered by visitors from all over the world."
Most recently, it hosted the National Junior Eurovision Song Contest for the Netherlands on 26 September which was broadcast on NPO3. The girl group UNITY took first place and will be representing their country in on Sunday 29 November.
Back on 30 August 2019, Ahoy was announced as the host of the Eurovision Song Contest 2020. Little could they, or anyone, predict what would transpire over the next few months. Throughout March of 2020 the team at Ahoy continued to work towards the Contest with the hope that it would still continue. However, on 18 March the EBU formally decided to cancel the event.
“Of course it was not a big surprise because everybody saw what was happening" CEO of Rotterdam Ahoy, Jolanda Jansen said. "Of course, at the same time it was a disappointment." Then, a series of positive announcements brought hope back to Jansen's team and to the fans of Eurovision. Within a month, the Rotterdam council announced that they would work towards allocating an extra budget for the next edition the Contest. Then in May the EBU and the team in Hilversum formally decided that Eurovision 2021 would stay with Rotterdam Ahoy. "It was a very, very happy feeling... the Eurovision Song Contest will be the biggest event ever held here so we are very, very enthusiastic and we look forward to next spring.”
Despite the global pandemic causing widespread disruption across multiple industries around the world, it has also generated new ways of working and socialising. Alongside other event spaces and public businesses, the team at Ahoy have had to make multiple changes to their operations to maintain the safety of their staff, their customers and the public. They are in contact with the responsible authorities and follow the guidelines of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the Association for Public Health and Safety (GGD). Despite these difficulties, Rotterdam Ahoy is still ready to organise and facilitate events, exhibitions and congresses in a safe and responsible way.
Jansen identified some lessons from the circumstances that unfolded as a result of the virus and its consequences. “People realise how important it is to be together and to form a community and to feel the energy of people together; I think that is also a big lesson and confirmation of what we are doing [at Ahoy]", Jansen commented.
Another lesson that Jansen and her team learnt along the way was that they will never know for certain what will happen in the future. As a result, they are now working "full-steam ahead" on a number of different possible scenarios together with the team in Hilversum, the team in Rotterdam, and alongside the EBU to ensure that Eurovision 2021 takes place. She also identified that through working together to create and plan these scenarios, the teams across the board have all come together and learnt a lot about each other.
Perhaps the best news to come from Jansen so far is that: “Whatever scenario that will happen in May we said one thing for sure: that it will be the most energetic and the most special edition within the reality of that time.”