‘There is a passion in Rotterdam that I hardly experienced before’

Desiree Baltussen is the newly-appointed Head of Conventions of the Rotterdam Ahoy Convention Centre currently under construction. She can’t wait for the opening and the team has already won eight bids for association conferences. The expansion of Rotterdam Ahoy is about to reach its highest point of construction in May 2019 and the building will be ready mid Sept 2020. After that, the countdown starts until mid-January 2021, when the brand new Rotterdam Ahoy Convention Centre (RACC) will celebrate its Grand Opening, together with Ahoy’s 50th anniversary. Desiree Baltussen, back in the Netherlands after 16 years in South Africa, is appointed as Head of Conventions.

How do you intend to position RACC internationally and why should we all book our conferences in the new venue?

“On top of our famous Ahoy Concert/Sports Arena and 6 exhibition halls, we are now building the largest auditorium of the Netherlands; 2,750 pax seated with a XL setup of 4,000 pax and by retractable seating we can create space for a 7,000 pax festival in a flash.” “Flexibility is a key USP in the entire design of the new building with 35 break-out-room combinations, spacious lounges, large areas for catering, receptions, dinners, posters, exhibitions. And with fabulous views over the city. The entire area around Ahoy is undergoing a metamorphosis.” “The final result will be a new, vibrant urban centre for the Rotterdam-South region. Both the renovation of Ahoy’s exhibition halls in 2018 and the current construction of the Rotterdam Ahoy Convention Centre (RACC) are part of this extensive area development programme, one of the largest public private partnerships in Western Europe.” “It is incredibly exciting what is all happening in this area. I’d like to list just a few new things: art building, aquatic centre, cinema, leisure plot, library, hotel, pedestrian area, public transport hub, residential area, shopping centre, south square, Pathé theatre and the urban park.”

You are also the owner of your own consultancy company, Capemotion. Do you maintain that while working at Ahoy? Can you tell us something about it?

“I started Capemotion after my expat time in Cape Town in order to provide additional consultancy to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC). It was a juridical/legal solution, as we rather wanted South African employees on the payroll honouring BEE and PDI regulations.” “Who would have thought that subsequently I would stay 16 years in Southern Africa to provide consultancy to the CTICC, USAID, associations and other organisations who wanted to grow their footprint into Africa.” “I kept my company going when I returned to The Netherlands where I gave trainings for the Royal Tropical Institute to Dutch expats and large organisations that are in global business with South Africa.” “At the moment Capemotion is dormant as I accepted a full-time multi-years contract with Rotterdam Ahoy.”

How will you use your experience, for instance in South Africa, to benefit your work at Ahoy?

“After five fabulous years as Marketing & Sales Manager at Amsterdam RAI they sent me off to Cape Town in 2001 to start up the commercial department for the new to be constructed CTICC (with RAI as contractor).” “We had to start from scratch as the convention industry was not yet developed in Cape Town. Conferences took place in hotels and tourism was booming but there was no experience yet with hosting major international conventions. As the CTICC was being constructed we were hiring and training local staff, starting up a Convention and Visitor Bureau (CVB) and going into bid for the big ones. A very exciting time. And very fruitful.” “When the CTICC opened in 2003 we already had a well-filled bookings calendar and demand kept on growing over time. In 2016 the CTICC doubled in capacity by opening CTICC-II.” “I hope that my convention industry track-record will be beneficial to Ahoy on multiple levels. Ahoy is on the eve of opening up to an entirely new market segment by attracting major international conferences and I am doing my utmost to help with all the ingredients that are necessary to make this a huge success.” “We will already reach and celebrate the highest point next month. First RACC events will take place end 2020 and the Grand Opening will be celebrated together with our fiftieth Anniversary in January 2021.”

What do you like most about your new job for RACC?

“The people at Ahoy are very pleasant to work with, straight forward, open, short communication lines and very quick in decision making. There is a passion in Rotterdam that I hardly experienced before. Rotterdammers are intensely proud of their city and work very hard.” “’Niet lullen maar poetsen’ is a saying that they rather prefer to DO the work instead of talking about it.” “We work very closely with the CVB which forms part of Rotterdam Partners. Together we jump at the most interesting bids for association conferences and other international events. Because of this joint effort we have a quick turnaround time and deliver the highest quality input to decision makers.”

Why should associations choose Rotterdam as a destination? What are the USPs?

“Rotterdam is such an innovative, young, multicultural, dynamic place to be. Many bright people are attracted by the city. You are either here by birth or by choice, like me.” “The Erasmus University and Medical Centre are of world class standard and forerunners in the newest technologies and practices – a very interesting, stimulating hosting ground for international conferences.”

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