Flanders received 8.2 million overnight tourists from home and abroad in 2021, an increase of more than half (52%) compared to the first quarter of 2020, according to provisional figures from Flemish Minister of Tourism Zuhal Demir.
But compared to the period before the pandemic, in 2019, Flanders still had 43% fewer arrivals, Belga News Agency reports.
Most tourists (5.6 million) came last year from within Belgium, with 2.6 million from abroad. Those foreign tourists accounted for the largest increase (+27%) compared to 2020, but their number is still a third lower than before the Covid-19 crisis.
Brexit resulted in decline of British tourists
One component in the decline of foreign tourists is Brexit: one of the most popular tourist destinations in Flanders is Ieper (Ypres), and UK tourists account for as much as 60% of the total visitors due to the city’s significance in British military history.
But UK visitors were subject to different travel restrictions than EU ones during the pandemic, which hotel owners said was hurting their business during an already difficult time.
The first half of 2021 was particularly difficult for Flemish tourism due to travel restrictions for everyone, but tourism was revived in the summer, mainly thanks to Belgians going on holiday in their own country. The autumn was also much better than in 2020.
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“I am so incredibly proud of the resilience of our Flemish tourism entrepreneurs, because these figures confirm once again that, despite the very difficult circumstances in which they had to work over the past year, they still gave the very best of themselves to receive visitors from home and abroad,” said Minister Demir.
Demir wants to attract even more visitors with targeted campaigns abroad, including ones centred around the Flemish art cities.
The Dutch made up the largest share of foreign visitors last year, with just under 2 million overnight stays, followed by France (1 million), Germany (967,000) and Spain (226,000).
Americans came in fifth place, with 215,000 overnight stays, and the UK dropped to eighth place as a result of the strict Covid-19 measures and Brexit.