'Growth and value creation'
Working in close collaboration with our customers, we posted good results in 2019. Continuing the trend of the past few years, Jaarbeurs has significantly improved its results, both in the Netherlands and internationally. Jaarbeurs has returned to a forward-looking mindset. Customer value and financial discipline continue to be important focus areas. Our redefined strategy targets growth and value creation for all Jaarbeurs stakeholders.
The ‘house in order’ strategy we launched in 2016 and which focused on customer value, operational excellence, our capabilities, and financial discipline, is increasingly bearing fruit. In mid-2019, we evolved this strategy into the new 'A+ Experience' strategy. A+ is the grade that we want customers to give us on our report card, reflecting our aim of achieving perfection for customers and visitors. In addition, an A+ Experience involves a greater focus on (technological) innovation, data-driven working methods, and sustainability.
We can look back on a year with stronger results in our Dutch-based operations, which in 2018 contributed to Jaarbeurs’ profit for the first time since 2012. These first shoots of recovery in 2018 have meanwhile grown into a solid foundation. Internationally, our subsidiaries continued their strong performance of the previous year. With a growing VIV brand and an important strategic alliance with parties such as Victam, we are well-positioned for further growth. The same goes for our business in China. That said, our subsidiaries will be recalibrating their strategies in 2020. In late 2019, we announced a new commercial structure to boost our commercial performance.
In 2019, a lot of attention has gone into employees’ and managers’ further development. There were several changes in our organisation’s top-level and middle management, some prompted by current needs, others made with a view to the future. These changes put a great strain on our employees, our most important asset. The necessary changes that were implemented were undoubtedly also a factor in the absence rate being too high. We are taking this very seriously and our extensive investments in our employees continue unabated.
Along with the unveiling of the 9+ strategy, we also presented our new branding. Jaarbeurs has chosen a single powerful red colour, the colour of the city of Utrecht, using subtle accents in the logo to further reflect the ties with Utrecht. Our new tagline of ‘Attract - Engage - Accelerate’ makes it clear to both Dutch and international stakeholders what we have to offer. On an international level, our VNU subsidiaries have also incorporated the red colour into the VNU logo, so as to ensure that Jaarbeurs and its VNU subsidiaries show greater unity.
On 3 December, we revealed our ambitious masterplan for the new Jaarbeurs and presented it to the mayor of Utrecht, Jan van Zanen. The plan presents a new venue (the new complex of exhibition halls) and positions the new Jaarbeurs as Europe’s smartest and most sustainable venue. Based on the foundations of quality of life, sustainability, and attractiveness, the plan associates us with the city of Utrecht and its residents more than ever before. The concept for the new Jaarbeurs was designed to better cater to visitors’ and customers’ needs and preferences. A final decision on the masterplan is expected in one of the upcoming phases. In late 2019, we signed a key partnership deal with Samsung Global to improve the customer experience and design new revenue models in the areas of digital signage, marketing and data.
At the time of preparation of this annual report, Dutch society and Jaarbeurs were confronted with the fallout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that started in the first quarter of this year. Our operations in Asia, and in China in particular, were affected as early as in February. This crisis is having a major impact on our employees and customers, both in the Netherlands and worldwide, but their resilience and flexibility is nothing less than admirable. We are also grateful for the relief measures announced by the Dutch government. At this moment, it is impossible to estimate the exact extent of the impact on Jaarbeurs as a whole. On the other hand, this situation confirms the power that personal meetings represent in our society. The way I see it, the effects of the coronavirus crisis do not undermine our business model. In fact, it may actually add a whole new dimension to it through the increased use of technology and digital solutions. As far as 2020 is concerned, Jaarbeurs will obviously not be able to maintain the upward trend in revenue and profit growth of the past 3 years. We can, however, count ourselves lucky that we have adequate buffer capital and a healthy liquidity profile, which will help us in terms of our continuity. While we hope that our society will bounce back quickly, we are preparing for the impact of various scenarios. At the time of writing this foreword, our subsidiary in China had just resumed its operations after a two-month shutdown and is working hard on preparations for upcoming major events.
On behalf of the Executive Board and the management, I would like to extend my gratitude to our employees for their hard work, determination, enthusiasm and professionalism, as well as to our customers and stakeholders who choose to partner with us. We are also grateful for the close and coordinated collaboration with the city of Utrecht. And finally, my thanks also go out to the members of the Supervisory Board for the expert and dedicated way in which they have supported us throughout 2019.
Albert Arp, CEO Jaarbeurs Holding