International tourists finally find their way back to Brussels

International tourists finally find their way back to Brussels
Grand Place in Brussels at night. Credit: The Brussels Times

As Covid-19 restrictions are all but forgotten and Belgium's normally perennial rain seems to have disappeared, hotels in the capital are almost back to pre-pandemic occupancy levels as international tourists flock back to Brussels.

While the hospitality industry in the Brussels-Capital Region is not yet back to its pre-Covid level of international tourists, the Brussels Hotels Association (BHA) published a positive assessment for July 2022.

"A few months ago, the big hotel groups or consultants such as MKG projected that we would never reach the 2019 results before 2024. Now we are almost there," Yves Fonck, President of the BHA, told L'Echo, adding that the predicted long road to recovery is going "a lot faster than expected."

On average, hotels in the capital had an occupancy rate of 66.6% in July compared with 74.8% in July 2019. However, there is still a gap between leisure and business tourism, with the former being noticeably faster to recover.

'Summer of music'

"The gap is still significant, but we also compare it to a year when we had the start of the Tour de France. However, the three Tomorrowland weekends had a very important positive impact, with a lot of overnight stays in Brussels," Rodolphe Van Weyenbergh, secretary general of the BHA, told the newspaper.

The tourist office called the overall feeling in Brussels "very positive," adding that there are many tourists, many people and many activities. "You could say that it was the summer of music. There were many festivals, events and concerts. For all of them, a huge number of people come to Brussels," they told Le Soir.

In July, major events such as the Rolling Stones and Ed Sheeran concerts and Tomorrowland already had a positive impact on overnight bookings. In August, the 22nd edition of the 'Tapis de fleurs' flower carpet on the Grand Place is also expected to attract its share of visitors after a four-year absence, as are the four sold-out Coldplay concerts at the King Baudouin Stadium.

"In June, leisure bookings suggested that July would be on a par with 2019, but this did not materialise due to large numbers of flight cancellations," Fonck said. "However, as a result of these problems, we have seen a higher occupancy rate in the airport hotels."

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Additionally, museums and tourist attractions are registering a positive evolution of tourists, as sales last month again reached the levels of July 2019.

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts passed its previous attendance record and reached the 50,000-visitors mark in July and the Atomium saw 71,481 visitors in July 2022 – even exceeding the already high figures (69,056 visitors) recorded in 2019.

"We owe this to international tourists who seem to be making a real comeback and are of crucial importance," added Brussels Museums director Pieter Van der Gheynst.

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