With the city still afflicted by the pandemic, this has been another bad summer for tourism in Brussels with foreigners avoiding the capital. On top of this, Belgium's wettest summer on record did nothing to bring business to the sector.
As a result, those working in tourism are calling on the federal government to extend the temporary unemployment measures beyond the 30 September duration currently fixed. The measures provide those who are temporarily unemployed with a sum equivalent to 65% of their average salary, capped at €2,785.07 per month.
"The Brussels tourism centre has lost more than 70% of its value compared to summer 2019 [before the pandemic]," stressed Fabian Hermans, head of Brussels' hospitality federation. "Brussels is empty, dead, in an artificial coma. There are endless chairs on the terraces but zero clients occupying them. It's a catastrophe!"
It's a similar story for Brussels' hotel business with those in the sector equally despondent. "The occupancy rates for July and August are, respectively, 25% and 28% against 79% and 68% in 2019," highlights Rodolphe Van Weyenbergh, secretary general of the Brussels Hotels Association (BHA). "The situation is untenable, since the start of 2021 to the end of August, total earnings in the sector are down 80% on 2019 figures."
Professionals in the sectors put their bleak returns down to the lack of tourists in the capital as well as the widespread adoption of home working. Van Weyenbergh explains that "80% of revenue in urban hotels is from international clients and business-related travel. Before the introduction of teleworking, remote meetings were not the norm and those travelling for business were an important source of income for hotels, bars, and restaurants. Now companies keep conventions and meetings to a minimum."
As for Belgian tourists themselves, a trip to the coast or the Ardennes is generally far more popular than visits to the capital.
Aside from the health crisis and its knock-on effects, the weather this summer didn't do any favours for the struggling tourism sectors. Between the reopening of restaurants on 8 May and 5 August there were 78 days of consecutive rain, of which 26 were stormy," Hermans lamented whilst citing figures from the Royal Meteorological Institute.
The BHA forecasts an unsensational September with current reservations doing little to bolster spirits. "Occupancy rates for September are hovering between 8 and 10% against 20% in normal times," a spokesperson for the association said. "As long as hospitality isn't fully operational, the capital will suffer the consequences," the hospitality federation concurred.
Disillusioned, the sector has increased its appeals to the federal minister in charge of the economy and work, Pierre-Yves Dermagne (PS), calling for the temporary unemployment measure to be prolonged. The sector has also called on the Brussels-Capital region to establish a new compensatory bonus for hotels.
The Brussels Times