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Festival rebound after the pandemic: visible and invisible growth

The festival and event industry was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020 there were only 155 festivals held – only 14% of the record number of events held in 2019. The events industry looked to be on the verge of collapse, with event cancelled and staff laid off.

In retrospect, however, the recovery of the events sector has been relatively rapid. The number of events more than doubled in 2021, partly thanks to creative experiments on safe levels of event attendance during Covid. In 2022, however, with all Covid restrictions lifted, the Dutch events industry not only recovered, but also hit a new record of over 1200 festivals.

Source: Respons - Monitor Festivals & Concerten

Much of this growth can of course be ascribed to pent-up demand from frustrated festival-goers. People who had not been able to attend an event for two years made up for it in 2022, as supply and demand exploded.

However, the growth of event activity has been even greater than suggested by the official figures, thanks to the increase in illegal events and festivals. Raves and other illegal festivities have long been a feature of the alternative cultural scene, but the pandemic helped to fuel a strong growth in this type of event. In spite of Covid restrictions many events sprang up in rural areas and disused industrial sites.

It seems that enterprising Dutch entrepreneurs have decided to turn this into a post-pandemic business model as well. Last weekend an illegal festival was organised in Sint-Truiden in Belgium, which attracted a reported 10,000 visitors. The event was praised by one visitor as ‘the best free party ever held in Belgium’. In spite of complaints from residents, police decided not to intervene, because there were simply too many people to dela with safely.

After the event ended, however, the suspected organisers of the event were arrested, and it turned out that most came from the Netherlands. These transnational entrepreneurs probably decided to cross the border because controls have become tougher in the Netherlands. Dutch police recently used force to break up an illegal rave in Maastricht, for example. In Belgium, however, the organisers apparently managed to erect 11 different stages without attracting the attention of the authorities.

It does seem that the Dutch festival and event scene is recovering strongly, both in terms of legal and illegal events. The drive for people to come together and celebrate has certainly not been dampened by the pandemic. And the festival industry is actually bigger than we thought.

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