“Our biggest challenge right now, is to create a lively neighborhood”
To state the obvious: Tour & Taxis is a unique location in Brussels, which is coming to life more and more each day now that it’s also being turned into a residential area. But even before Park Lane came to be, Tour & Taxis has been a home to many events, fairs and festivals. An aspect of our beloved site that came to an abrupt stand-still in 2020 due to COVID-19. We sat down with Jean Vandamme, the Event Manager of Tour & Taxis to talk about his experiences and his hopes and expectations for the future.
“Hi Jean, could you tell our readers a bit more about what you do at Tour & Taxis?”
Jean Vandamme: “Certainly! For nearly 17 years now, I’ve been involved with everything which has to do with events on the Tour & Taxis site. From short term rentals to the organization of events, concerts, congresses, fairs & festivals. Our top 3 events are the very well known BRAFA (72.000 visitors), Foire du livre 60.000 visitors), and Art Brussels, Comicon & Tattoo Convention (30.000 visitors).
“Must be an exciting job. But last year was quite a difficult year for the event industry. How did you experience the influence of the COVID-19 crisis?”
Jean Vandamme: “’Quite difficult’ is definitely an understatement. Our industry came to an abrupt stop at the beginning of March last year. Since then, there haven’t been any big events on site. By now, we can’t expect any positive developments until March or even May 2021. And maybe this will go on even until after next summer. So, my beloved industry is struggling, to say the least. During the first lockdown period, we found some time to prepare for future events and to think about the adaptations to our infrastructure to make it as corona-proof as possible. The second lockdown changed our prospects completely. We don’t know what to expect in the upcoming months.”
“Well, talk about a challenge! How did you cope with this?”
Jean Vandamme: “During the summer it seemed like everything was improving and we had some opportunities. We had to be creative, but it worked out. And we were still hopeful when it came to fairs and exhibitions at that point, because the government put them under the same set of rules as retailers. Since October 29th however, fairs have been explicitly forbidden until further notice. So, you could say we’ve been on a wild emotional and practical rollercoaster.
Back in March, we were sure this weird disease from China would pass by without much ado. Then suddenly, the entire country went in lockdown. Then some businesses got to open again. And some more. And then everything went downhill again. Right now, we just hope that the vaccines will offer a solution. But it still remains to be seen how that will work out. The biggest issue for our industry is that you can’t organize a big trade fair on two weeks’ notice. We need about three months, to be completely up and running. So right now, everyone is making plans for later this year, but we need to know for sure a couple of months in advance if it can actually happen. The one thing I know: as soon as things get back to normal, our calendar is completely booked, stuffed with events which have been rescheduled and new events.”
“Do you believe the event industry needs to reinvent itself to brace themselves for this new post-COVID era?”
Jean Vandamme: “The industry was already reinventing itself before this crisis. Corona only gave it a powerful boost. It’s all accelerating now. Congresses, for instance, are going through the same evolution as remote working. We’re evolving towards hybrid meeting spaces, where lectures can also be attended virtually. People will ask themselves: ‘is it absolutely necessary that I’ll get on a plane to attend this?’ So, event venues will have to be equipped with high-performance systems, to assure a smooth and enjoyable experience.
When it comes to fairs, their reinvention process has been well underway for a while now. A lot of fairs have already disappeared over the last few years. If people can also get it online, they don’t want to face a mass op people and crowded venues. It’s hard to say how much this will still evolve. It all depends on the success of the virtual fairs and markets people are now organizing. But then again, this was an evolution which was already waiting to happen. Corona simply accelerated the process.”
“And how about Tour & Taxis? You now have the brand-new Gare Maritime which can be used for different types of events. What does this mean for the site as a whole?”
Jean Vandamme: “We truly want to make a grand shift in the way people experience Tour & Taxis. The site is already well-known, but only as a specific destination. They come here to work, for an appointment or to attend a specific event. But now, with both the addition of the Gare Maritime and Park Lane, we envision to turn it into a lively neighborhood where you can come strolling and discover something new every time. You can take a walk in the park and make a quick stop in the food hall of the Gare Maritime. Or maybe you live nearby and hop in for a workshop. Or you have a business meeting on site and stay for a concert. Our biggest challenge right now, is to create exactly that: a lively neighborhood, where there’s always something going on. The Gare Maritime will function as a sort of central hub for all this action.”
“Well Jean, I truly wish you and the event sector all the best in recovering.”
JVD: Thank you. We need it. Tour & Taxis will surely be one of the first destinations to host all new events in a secure and fabulous way.