The Atomium, one of Brussels’ most visible landmarks, is facing financial problems as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, and has turned to the city for aid.
The Atomium is run by a non-profit of the city of Brussels commune, and had started off this year forecasting a budgetary surplus for 2020 of €800,000.
Then came the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and the lockdown in March. The Atomium has been closed since then, and the attraction’s income tap is turned off.
“Contrary to popular belief, we are hardly subsidised at all,” explained deputy director Julie Almau Gonzalez. “93% of our income comes from ticket sales, merchandising and the rental of function rooms. Only 3% comes from grants from the city under its exhibition policy.”
Last year was the Atomium’s third-best year on record, with visitors, bettered only by 2006, when it reopened after renovations, and by 50th anniversary year 2008.
This year, however, the forecast is a loss of €3 million.
“We can handle that, but the question is what we can expect in the years to come. We need structural support,” Almau Gonzales said.
Under the latest rules from the national security council for the relaxation of the lockdown, the Atomium may open from next week as a historic site, but the preparations are not complete, she said. The management is now preparing a partial opening from June 1, and a return to normal working from July 1.
But what is normal, in these Covid-19 times? According to the rules on social distancing in general application, the space would be able to admit a maximum of 150 visitors an hour. But that, she said, would not be sufficient to maintain profitability.
One possible lifeline might come from an increased number of visits from Belgians themselves, who normally make up only 30% of visitors. With foreign holidays at the moment less in vogue even where they are permitted, the monument hopes to attract from domestic visitors.
Even with that, however, structural aid from the city, the region or the national government will be necessary.
“We are working on a plan for the next two or three years to survive,” Almau Gonzales said. “Financial support from the government will certainly be needed.”