Belgian tourism reeling as coronavirus fears plague travellers

Belgian tourism reeling as coronavirus fears plague travellers
Hotels in Brussels said they expected up to €10 million in losses due to cancelled bookings. © Belga

The fast-paced spread of the new coronavirus through Europe is dealing a blow to the Belgian tourism industry, with companies reporting a steep dip in demand as public concern over the outbreak mounts.

The Brussels Hotels Association (BHA) estimated that its members would be posting losses of up to €10 million as a result of cancelled bookings, Le Vif reports.

BHA’s figures were reported on the same day that the first confirmed case of the new Covid-19 coronavirus was detected in Antwerp on Saturday, suggesting that travellers moved to cancel their stays even before any active cases were reported in Belgium.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Rodolphe Van Weyenbergh, Secretary-General of BHA, which represents 90% of hotels in Brussels which employ a combined 12,500 people.

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Since the epidemic hit Italy at the end of February, air travel associations have also reported shifts in consumer behaviour, as a growing number of travellers chose to give up booked holidays over fears of catching the new virus.

The International Air Transport Association on Monday said that air carriers reported that roughly half of their passengers had been no-shows, with one major airline, which the association did not name, seeing bookings drop by 108%.

Brussels Airlines said on Monday that “because of the rapidly declining demand in air travel within Europe,” it would continue to fly to Italy at a reduced frequency, but it stopped short of scrapping all flights to the European country the most hard-hit by the virus so far.

“The Belgian airline is forced to extend the measures and reduce its flight offer to [Milan], Venice, Rome, Bologna and Turin,” by 30% until 28 March, the company said in a statement.

The hotel sector in Brussels said that it was effectively communicating with federal authorities, but called on it to roll-out measures to cushion the economic blow of the scale down of activity, and in particular, to support measures to allow putting workers on temporary leave due to force-majeure.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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