Brussels tourism sector not expected to bounce back fully before 2022
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Brussels tourism sector not expected to bounce back fully before 2022

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The tourism sector in Brussels is not expected to recover fully from the effects of the Coronavirus crisis before next year, according to Patrick Bontinck, CEO of visit.brussels, the regional government’s tourism and cultural promotion arm.

Speaking on Friday at a seminar between Belgian and French tourism-sector representatives at the Brussels Days event in Paris, he said that while there were signs of improvement, with figures slightly on the upswing in Summer, the future will depend on a return to normal working conditions, on which business tourism depends heavily.

A major source of concern is the reestablishment of the air and rail transport supply. Air transport, for example, is not expected to return to pre-COVID levels before 2023 or 2024.

The month of August saw a resumption of tourist activity in the Belgian capital. Hotel occupancy was 33%, up from 22% in August 2020, but 40% less than in the corresponding month of 2019. Bed-and-breakfasts registered a 44.4% occupancy rate in August, 55% more than corresponding month of last year, but 41% less than in August 2019.

According to Mr. Bontinck, the recovery was largely due to the presence in Brussels of a young public that appeared to have been attracted by the Arena 5 concerts in Heysel.

While still half as many as in 2019, visits to museums and attractions totalled 250,000, representing a 97% increase on 2020.

Mobile phone data showed that the tourists were mostly Belgians. Still, even though less numerous, foreign visitors were 40% more than in August 2020. The overwhelming majority were French.

Hotel occupancy in the first half of September was almost 40%, up 22 points compared to the corresponding period of last year, but 37 points lower than in the first two weeks of September 2019.

Interest in the city of Brussels on the Google search engine continues to grow, which is an encouraging sign. September 19 saw the highest number of searches in months, along with an increase in searches for flights to the Belgian capital.

According to Patrick Bontinck, an analysis of the situation in Europe as a whole shows that cities in the smallest countries suffered the most from the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.

Brussels registered a 40 percent drop compared to 2019, as did Vienna and Geneva, while Amsterdam took a 50% plunge. On the other hand, Lyon, Milan and Madrid, urban centres in larger countries, fared better, losing just 20 percentage points. This was the result of the mass of local tourism, Bontinck said.

He stressed that continued support for the hospitality sector over the next few months was vital to prevent business closures from reducing the tourism supply and sapping the sector’s economic vitality for a long time to come.

The Brussels Times

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