The success behind Bilderberg's most famous conference
The Bilderberg Conference is a genuine phenomenon in the world of conferences. Each year, the event has 'the feeling of coming home' according to those involved. So what is the secret of this conference? Journalist Judith Munster asked VNO-NCW's event managers Rixt Bonte and Yvette Boodoo.
Every year, participants and stakeholders eagerly look forward to the first Friday and Saturday in February. That's when the Bilderberg Conference takes place at Hotel De Bilderberg in Oosterbeek. 'A sense of belonging' and a 'warm bath' are words used by organisers Rixt Bonte and Yvette Boodoo to describe the unique feeling during the conference: "It has the feeling of coming home every year."
Author: Judith Munster
Two Bilderberg conferences
But before we move on, let's avoid any misunderstanding: there are actually two Bilderberg conferences. Most people immediately think of the international version that Prince Bernard Sr. was once involved in: a political meeting of a strictly confidential nature, where influential figures from the Western world share ideas. That's the other Bilderberg Conference.
Behind closed doors
"The first international Bilderberg Conference in 1954 did, however, inspire the then NCW board. They wanted to develop a similar event," explains Rixt Bonte. She is an event manager and has been involved in organising the conference for thirty years. "NCW was a Christian employers' organisation and the aim at the time was to organise a Christian reflection conference. A conference for members as well as ministers, MPs, MEPs and important figures involved in current affairs. It was to be an event where anything could be discussed, but where what was discussed stayed behind closed doors. The information may be shared, but without disclosing the identity of the speakers and participants. These days, it is not as strict. However, the conference is still dominated by current social developments. This year, for example, the theme was 'Between polarisation and consensus'."
“Every time, we are overwhelmed by the warm atmosphere in the hotel and the fact that absolutely everything is taken care of down to the finest detail”
Yvette Boodoo has been involved in the organisation for three years. Last February, she experienced the event for the second time – due to COVID-19 it couldn't take place in 2021 – and again, like Rixt for the past thirty years, she was overwhelmed by the warm atmosphere in the hotel and the fact that absolutely everything was taken care of down to the finest detail: "Hotel De Bilderberg anticipates our every need. Everything is meticulous. The entire hotel is dedicated to the conference, there are no other guests. There are more than enough staff walking around and the service is of the highest level. Everything runs like clockwork, from start to finish."
Rixt: "It all starts with the welcome. After so many years, the guests and staff know each other, which immediately creates a warm feeling. Many participants are allocated the same room every year, which is greatly appreciated. I don't know how they do it, but the staff know exactly what pleases each guest and how to make them happy. It's the same for us: we always arrive a day in advance to get everything ready and from then on we are part of the 'Bilderberg family'. Which applies to everyone, including the technical crew and others involved. Everyone is equal, everyone does their job and there is a lot of fun."
It's the little things
But Rixt explains that it's also the little things, the things you don't expect. "Years ago, it was freezing outside and the guests were leaving for home on Saturday. In the car park, we discovered that someone had scraped the frost off all the car windows! It was the staff. And this year, one woman laddered her tights. She asked a staff member where the nearest shop was. The staff member replied: 'we'll be happy to arrange that for you', and it was all sorted in no time. Those kind of things, it's so thoughtful!"
24 unforgettable hours
The Bilderberg conference lasts just 24 hours. On Friday, guests are welcomed with an exquisite lunch. This is followed by speakers and, depending on the programme, workshops, parallel sessions or other working formats. At the end of the day, it's time for drinks, followed by dinner. The evening ends in the bar, where most people often stay to chat into the small hours. Saturday morning begins with a delicious breakfast and the ecumenical service attended by the vast majority of the party. The service is followed by a presentation by a minister and a spoken column by a well-known personality. Lastly, there is a concluding presentation, provided during the last edition by key speaker and corporate anthropologist Danielle Braun. The day ends with another delicious lunch and after that, everyone goes home.
Ronald is General Manager at Hotel De Bilderberg: "The Bilderberg Conference is the annual kick-off for our team. It is the first major conference of the year and everyone looks forward to it. It's a unique event where all our areas of expertise come together beautifully. Every year, we invite colleagues from our other hotels to join us during the Bilderberg Conference. This year, we were supported by the entire team from Hotel De Keizerskroon in Apeldoorn, which was closed for renovation work. It's really great to welcome back the guests and see them enjoying all the finer things Hotel De Bilderberg and the team have to offer."
Unique atmosphere and experience
But it doesn't end there for Rixt and Yvette. They traditionally sit down after lunch with a delegation from the hotel team to evaluate and brainstorm for the next conference. Yvette: "In December, the first meeting for the upcoming edition takes place, obviously at Hotel De Bilderberg, including a pre-taste of the dinner. A month and a half later, much to our delight, the whole adventure starts all over again."
Have you ever considered holding the conference at a different venue? Rixt: "We get that question almost every time a new chair or board member joins VNO-NCW. 'Can't we organise it somewhere else for once?' But then we tell them about the warm, unique atmosphere, about the experience and service at Hotel De Bilderberg and... before we've finished talking, the person is already convinced. So we will continue to host the Bilderberg Conference at Hotel De Bilderberg. After all, it's not called the Bilderberg Conference for nothing."
The conference venue is in a stunning, green location – a beautiful estate tucked away in the woods near Arnhem. It offers a diverse range of meeting facilities combined with excellent service. Hotel De Bilderberg is your ultimate partner for organising unique meetings.
Pleasure to meet you! My name is Eveline, director of meaningful encounters. I enjoy working with Rixt and Yvette to organise the Bilderberg Conference. I have plenty of ideas to make your next meeting special too.