The measures introduced in March to combat the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) have cost the Brussels economy five billion euros so far, according to Beci, the Brussels chamber of commerce.
A whole range of measures are to blame: the closure of most retail outlets, the ban on non-essential journeys, the closure of events and entertainment venues from night-clubs to concert halls to puppet theatres. Almost the entire food and drinks industry has been closed since the beginning. The tourism sector is moribund.
And now the country faces another two weeks of much the same, with uncertainty to follow.
“Every month we wait before starting up the economy again will cost the same,” said Beci secretary-general Jan De Brabanter.
Hotels are at an occupancy rate of 5%, with some even being used as safe lodgings for the homeless.
“If you know that a few of those hotels still provide temporary relief for vulnerable groups such as the homeless, then the situation is not exactly rosy,” he said.
The hospitality industry alone – bars, restaurants and hotels – has suffered a loss of some €400 million – losses from which many will never recover. Restaurants and cafes in particular operate on narrow margins, and even the premium offered by the Brussels region of €4,000 for establishments forced to close will not be enough to cushion the blow.
“May 3 is now the new end date of the lockdown,” he said. “With that date in mind, that amount is likely to double, especially if an extension follows. Approximately €5 billion more is added per month while waiting for the economy to restart. And that could increase even further in the coming months if the loss of deferred investments and temp work is also taken into account. Let us hope that federal and regional aid measures can minimize the slump.”
Beci makes a number of recommendations:
Extend relief from paying the hotel tax not only for the duration of the confinement but for a longer period, perhaps as long as one or two years. Hotels would continue to charge guests the city-tax as before, but could keep it themselves.
Encourage Belgians to spend at least some vacation time in their capital, and not only for a day-trip.
“We will probably not be able to go on holiday abroad this summer. This offers prospects for seeking relaxation in your own country, for example with a city trip.”
The region, together with the federal government, needs to make work of coming up with a detailed relaunch plan for Brussels, sooner rather than later, to allow businesses to make the necessary preparations, Beci said.