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In the middle of the crisis of World War I, on 6 May 1916, an important decision was made in the offices of the Mayor of Utrecht: that Jaarbeurs should be established. The aim was to stimulate domestic trade in order to emerge from the crisis stronger.

Coming out of a crisis stronger is something that’s been in our DNA ever since we were founded. It means that we could look towards the future with confidence, even at the end of 2021. This was not always so easy as, for the second year in a row, the world was in the grip of the coronavirus and our doors were partially or totally closed for much of the year. The repeated opening and closing created uncertainty, also for our customers and visitors, and naturally had financial implications. The upscaling and downscaling of our organisation made considerable demands on our employees. At the same time, we used 2021 to speed up our operations, improving our organisation and processes, and implementing our sustainability and digital transformation strategies in a much shorter time. Even when our doors were closed, we worked hard and achieved a great deal for the organisation.   

We facilitated a ‘field lab' to get a clear idea of how events, conferences and other gatherings could be held safely. As the first event venue in the Netherlands to get a Kiwa quality mark for its coronavirus prevention measures, we were the logical place for such a study.

The added value of what Jaarbeurs can offer is in the personal contacts: a safe space to grow. To grow as a person, as an organisation or as a market. We remain confident that this basic human need will remain important. And we will be able to meet that need once again in 2022: great live meetings, complemented by all the initiatives that we took last year for facilitating online meetings properly as well. Over the past year, we have invested in the Jaarbeurs Studio, which we can use to facilitate our customers’ online and hybrid events properly.

In 2021, we also invested in renewing our own offerings and focused on how we can be even more useful to sectors that are important for the Netherlands, including education. In May this year, we launched the Dutch Health Hub, the place where healthcare and life sciences professionals can be a source of inspiration for each other, share knowledge and cooperate – a place for networking and doing valuable work. That’s exactly what Jaarbeurs is all about. The hub wants to reflect the community, at the very heart of care and adding value.

“During the times in 2021 when we were able to welcome visitors, we noticed how much people still need to really look each other in the eye”

We have also been able to emphatically fulfil our social role by hosting both one of the largest vaccination sites and one of the largest testing facilities in the Netherlands. The coronavirus crisis can only be controlled if we work together and we are proud to have played an important role in that. Slowly but surely, we are leaving the pandemic behind us.

At the same time, coronavirus will not disappear entirely in the short term. It requires us to be flexible, adaptable and courageous enough to take new steps, in terms of digitalisation and innovation. It demands a sound long-term strategy – from the government too – to keep society open. And that includes the doors of Jaarbeurs. Moreover, during the past year, government support in the form of coronavirus subsidies has been most welcome and also necessary.

Even in these times of crisis, we have continued to work on our new building plans – while keeping in mind the new challenges posed by increasing construction prices, by the changes in our financial situation and therefore our funding options. This requires us to be creative and solution-oriented when realising our plans.

In 2022, Utrecht will be celebrating its ninth centenary and Jaarbeurs reaches 105 years. Together we will make sure that our links with the city only grow stronger and that we can add many more years to our affiliation.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine that broke out at the start of 2022 is creating an unstable geopolitical situation. Its impact on Jaarbeurs is limited for now as we focus primarily on national markets. The impact on economic growth and the increase in (energy) prices may nevertheless impact our activities. We are therefore following developments with concern, both with regard to the economic and the humanitarian consequences. Since 9 March, Jaarbeurs has been acting as a hub for several hundred Ukrainian refugees. It is important for us to keep fulfilling this role in society.

Following the departure of Albert Arp at the end of December, I was appointed interim CEO in 2022, alongside my role as CFO. I am grateful for my cooperation with Albert and find it heartening that I also feel the unwavering support, commitment and perseverance of the staff. Especially in these times when we are demanding so much of them.

Recently, I also announced that I was moving on to the next stage in my career and that I would be leaving Jaarbeurs this summer. In the meantime, a new, strong management team is poised to take the helm. Jeroen van Hoof as CEO and Pascal van Gool as CFO will form the management team, together with Heiko Stutzinger who transferred from our Bangkok office and started as COO in November. That has meant numerous changes for the organisation, but we are sticking firmly to our course. I wish Jeroen, Pascal and Heiko every success in their new roles.

The efforts of our employees, the involvement of our Supervisory Board, the commitment of our customers and the undiminished enthusiasm of our visitors to meet each other face to face ensure that we are ultimately in a stronger position. We are going Back2Better!

Franka Morssink

CEO ad interim Royal Dutch Jaarbeurs