Despite a rosy outlook in recent weeks, it looks like Tomorrowland will abandon its 2021 dates after the Belgian government rejected the festival's permit application.
According to VRT News, the mayors of Boom and Rumst have refused a permit to host the massive music festival, which is currently planned for August 27-29 and September 3-5. At a press conference, they reportedly cited "risks to public safety and health" as the impetus for the rejection.
Organizers called the decision "a sledgehammer blow" after Tomorrowland—one of the world's most popular electronic dance music festivals—had already been postponed due to the impact of COVID-19.
"We haven't had a festival for two years, which is very hard both financially and emotionally for our entire team," said spokesperson Debby Wilmsen in a statement translated from Dutch. "We were so keen on this, and it all looked positive."
"After 15 years of intensive cooperation with the municipalities of Boom and Rumst, this feels very sour," Wilmsen continued. "We find this very unfortunate after the many constructive preparations and conversations we have had. We do not know for a while what is happening to us."
VRT outlines three reasons behind the permit rejection. "The Ministerial Decree regarding the maximum capacity at events from mid-August (75,000 people) has not yet been published. That is why mayors can legally only allow events up to 400 people for the time being," according to a statement from Tomorrowland.
Another bottleneck is the lack of police. "If the police forces have to carry out additional identity and corona [sic] checks at Tomorrowland, then there will be insufficient capacity for their essential tasks," the festival's statement continued. "But we understand that both arguments are resolved very quickly, when the Ministerial Decree is published, and if identity checks are carried out by private security companies may be performed."
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Lastly, GEMS, an advisory group handling the country of Belgium's coronavirus response, reportedly had concerns despite Prime Minister Alexander De Croo's promising summer plan for large festivals.
The news of Tomorrowland's imminent cancellation is at odds with a statement shared by organizers on May 11th in reaction to comments made by De Croo, who asserted in a tweet that large festivals should be possible in the second half of summer 2021.
"We are delighted and grateful to hear that the Belgian Government has given a realistic perspective for large festivals in Belgium towards the end of the summer," Tomorrowland's statement reads. "This perspective is not only hopeful for Tomorrowland as an organization, but also for the more than 1500 suppliers and their staff."
Tomorrowland attracts approximately 400,000 people each year, a vexing figure for local residents fearing a potential spread of COVID-19. VRT reports that the neighborhood council of provincial domain De Schorre had cast doubt on a "corona-safe edition" of Tomorrowland due to its immense international audience.
Rumst Mayor Jurgen Callaerts, who noted that "the epidemiological risk is currently very high," is already looking to 2022. "We especially hope that we can welcome Tomorrowland again in 2022, in the same circumstances as in 2019," Callaerts said. "But this festival comes too early now. It is not wise to let an event of that order take place."
Wilmsen said that Tomorrowland is considering next steps in the wake of the permit application's rejection. "The mayor of Boom and his counsel have indicated to us that we can go to the Council of State against this decision," she said before bemoaning the decision as a "huge disaster."
"A second year in a row without Tomorrowland is a huge disaster for our company, but also for the 1,500 suppliers, freelancers and thousands of employees involved," Wilmsen continued. "Organizing Tomorrowland, hundreds of people work on it day in day out, for a whole year, with a lot of passion. This needs to sink in for a while."