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'The great thing about Zuidas is that initiatives are being developed that help create a genuine shared space'

Paul Riemens, CEO of RAI Amsterdam

More and more, people who live and work in Zuidas are coming to realize that the district is more than just the stretch between Gustav Mahlerplein and Zuidplein. The boundaries of Zuidas extend far beyond these public squares, also encompassing RAI Amsterdam, the Amsterdam District Court, the o ces and schools on Fred. Roeskestraat, VU Amsterdam and VU University Medical Centre Amsterdam - and beyond. For this edition of Hello Zuidas, we caught up with Paul Riemens. Paul, who just over a year ago was appointed CEO of RAI Amsterdam, after a long career at Schiphol Airport's Air Tra c Control, says the switch has opened up a whole new world. With obvious enthusiasm, he describes plans for the RAI along with his own ambitions.

You have been at the helm of RAI Amsterdam for over a year now. What has this rst year been like for you?

'Terrific. I've been able to attend almost every trade fair we hosted here and that has been a marvellous adventure. Before taking this job, I had been working at Air Tra ic Control at Schiphol for thirty years, where I had accomplished everything I'd set out to do. I had come to a point where I wanted to embark on something new. Though I was also o ered a job in East Asia, Amsterdam kept pulling me back. This city has everything I could wish for and it's a fantastic place to live, study and work. When this post at RAI Amsterdam came up, I cycled over to the RAI to get a feel for the area. Straight away, I thought: Yes, this is it! This is a large logistics organization with a certain social impact, and that combination really appeals to me. Apart from that, the economic e ects of what we do are instantly visible, because obviously the RAI is a profitable business.

This past year has been an incredible learning experience for me, and I've met wonderful people.'

Architecturally speaking, RAI Amsterdam is rather rough around the edges and has a very dominant presence. Your objec- tive is to make the building a bit 'softer' and more accessible. What image are you going for, and how do you aim to achieve it? 'Rough may not be the right word. In a way, RAI Amsterdam could be seen as a snapshot of a certain era. Architects come from all over the world to see this building complex. Several of the halls around the existing RAI were built in certain characteristic styles. What I like about it is that it's not a boilerplate building, but rather a reflection of di erent periods. Structurally it's very diverse, and that particular concept is precisely what I want to tap into at the RAI - that it's a meeting place for a diverse mix of people. We have so much to o er. Just take a look at the new StrandZuid! My approach is to listen to the company and the building and to look at what we need going activities have only grown over the years. Looking at the RAI as a building in Amsterdam, what purpose should it fulfil? But actually, that's not what we should be asking ourselves anymore at this point; it should be a building that everyone knows and recognizes as a genuine fixture of the community.'

You're also part of Zuidas, of course. How important is that for the RAI?

'Zuidas is absolutely vital to us. I really value the cooperation within Zuidas. Ties between local companies and the municipality are very close. The frictions surrounding Zuidasdok could easily lead to conflicts, for example, but I've not seen that happen at all. In fact, attitudes are very positive all round. We want to use our physical and corporate mass to contribute to Zuidasdok and make sure it is ultimately completed with minimal adverse e ects. The great thing about Zuidas is that initiatives are being developed that help create a genuine shared space. If you look at this whole southern section of Amsterdam, with the RAI, Zuidas and the Arena, you can tell how dynamic this area is. It encompasses everything from sports, leisure, meeting places, events, to residential buildings and finance hot spots. I think that's a marvellous development.'

As we speak, the biggest hotel in the entire Benelux is being built next to RAI Amsterdam - the nhow Amsterdam RAI. What are your expectations for this new hotel?

'The hotel will open half way 2019 and naturally our expectations are high. It will have 650 rooms and rise 91 metres. This building is set to become a major head quarter hotel, that will offer a comfortable night's stay to visitors coming here for an event or a convention. The hotel will also serve the local community. The sky bar will be open to everyone, o ering an amazing view across the city.'

Every year RAI Amsterdam hosts the Huishoudbeurs, - the annual home fair - which is your single largest event in terms of visitor numbers. What is the secret to the success of this event?

'This was one of the first trade consumer exhibitions I attended and I have to say that the experience really humbled me. By this I mean that understanding what the public are looking for and then providing it is an art in itself. Every day we're thinking of ways in which we may cater to di erent segments, both nationally and internationally, and of what people want. When you see the development process that goes into that, you realize the incredible insight required. Today's Huishoudbeurs are a world away from the old days. You have to think about how the role of a homemaker is changing, for example, and to what extent this concept applies even now. We have to keep innovating all the time, because the fair has to reflect the transformations taking place in the world beyond. That means we need to come up with novel ideas every year.' Every day we're thinking of ways in which we may cater to di erent segments, both nationally and internationally.

In May 2016 you received a royal distinction for your impressive role as a representative of the Dutch aviation sector in the Netherlands and abroad. How do you look back on that now?

'I always imagined that ribbons don't get handed out until one's retirement, so it hadn't crossed my mind at all. I had le aviation a er 32 years, when one day a friend from my aviation network phoned to say that a farewell party was being organized for me at the Posthoornkerk in Amsterdam. He also said, 'Be sure to have a speech ready, because it's going to be quite the event'. But that was all he'd tell me. At dinner I was seated beside State Secretary Sharon Dijksma and surrounded by all of my close colleagues from aviation. And then to my utter amazement Mayor Eberhard van der Laan came in, and that's when I realized I was about to receive a royal distinction. I was completely bowled over by it! When you've worked somewhere for so long and put so much blood, sweat and tears into accomplishing something, that makes it a very special moment. It was beyond my greatest expectations.'

How do you envision the future of RAI Amsterdam?

'Right now we're exploring into creating an environment within the RAI where we can bring in new media. I was inspired by Dauphine restaurant at Amstel Station, where nowadays Financieele Dagblad and BNR Nieuwsradio are based. That combination createsthe particular, palpable dynamic that we need to achieve here. The next initiative will be the InspirationLab, which is a free and open launchpad for innovative concepts for the RAI. We also want to get start-up companies and universities of applied sciences to use this space. However, we're taking things one step at a time in order to see what works. Another plan is to tackle Wielingenstraat, to turn it into a green strip with room for sports and recreation. So, in other words, there's plenty in the works!'