Overnight stays: Belgian tourism sector slowly recovering, but Brussels still lagging behind

Overnight stays: Belgian tourism sector slowly recovering, but Brussels still lagging behind
Tourists taking pictures on a deserted Brussels Grand Place / Grote Markt square, Monday 30 March 2020. Credit: Belga / Benoit Doppagne

With Covid-19 measures lifted and travel restrictions relaxed, the tourist sector in Belgium recovered slightly compared to the pandemic-driven 2020. However, all regions, particularly Brussels, are still behind the levels seen in 2019.

Last year, some 29 million overnight stays were booked in Belgium, 45% more than in 2020, however, this is still 31% lower than in 2019, before the pandemic hit the sector, according to new annual figures for tourist arrivals and overnight stays published by Statbel, the Belgian statistics office.

In Brussels, the situation remains the worst, as compared to 2019, there is still a serious decrease (-68%). The increase compared to 2020 was also the smallest here (33%).

Meanwhile, in Wallonia, there was a 37% increase compared to 2020 and a 20% decrease compared to 2019, and in Flanders, an increase of 50% compared to 2020 and a decrease of 25% compared to 2019.

Campsites recovered, hotels still falling behind

The number of overnight stays booked in campsites has once again risen to the same level as in 2019 (around 3.05 million), while the number of stays in cottages and holiday houses neared levels seen in 2019 (6.65 million in 2021 compared to 6.93 two years before).

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Hotels remain the hardest hit by the pandemic, with a 47% decrease compared to 2019 (20 million before the pandemic compared to just over 10 million last year). Holiday parks and youth hostels also continue to be badly affected, with decreases of 33% and 37%, respectively, compared to 2019.

However, overall, hotels also remained the most popular accommodation category in 2021 with 37% of overnight stays, followed by cottages, holiday homes and flats with 23%.

Foreign tourists slow to return

Compared to before the pandemic, when foreign tourists accounted for almost half of all overnight stays, there were still fewer overnight stays by foreign tourists in 2021 (-63%).

The number of people from Belgium booking overnight stays in the country is again at the same level as in 2019 (domestic tourists accounted for 73% of overnight stays in 2019).

This trend is expected to continue this summer, with many people in Belgium saying they are opting to spend their holidays within the country’s borders due to the uncertainties surrounding travel, from high fuel prices to chaos at airports as a result of staff shortages.

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