The Hotel Metropole on the Place de Brouckère in central Brussels, which is expected soon to announce its closure, could be only the first in a series of spectacular collapses in the sector, the Brussels chamber of commerce Beci has said.
Beci had been expecting something similar to happen. The hotel has been in difficulties for some time, as a result of factors including terrorist attacks and the construction of the pedestrian zone directly outside the hotel’s imposing terrace and main entrance.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, and hotel occupancy rates across the sector went through the floor. But the Metropole, without the safety net of a large international chain, suffered more than most.
“The Hotel Metropole is the first major domino to fall,” said Jan De Brabanter, secretary-general of Beci. “If something drastic is not done, then many others will soon follow.”
So far the Brussels region has agreed to waive the hotel tax on occupancy, but Beci regards that as a token gesture. Hotels are still allowed to charge guests the tax, but for the time being do not need to pass it on to the region. But since occupancies are so low, the measure makes little actual difference.
“You can hardly call this a real surprise,” he told Bruzz. “Even without corona, Hotel Metropole could have gone down the drain.”
Official policy of the hospitality industry has been too concentrated, he said, on the restaurant and cafe industries.
“That’s an old sore, because in normal circumstances people always look first in the direction of the restaurants and cafes. I am not saying that the need there is not as great now, but the hotels do deserve the same medicines for the same disease.”
Another problem is that financial aid tends to flow mainly towards on smaller businesses. “That’s understandable, but we should not lose sight of the larger cases with more than 50 employees. They are still too often fishing behind the net when it comes to radical support measures. For example, they are not entitled to a nuisance premium to get through the difficult months.”
The premium, in the form of a one-off payment of €4,000, is granted to businesses who are forced to close, including most retailers. It does not apply to hotels.
The office of Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort, who is responsible for tourism policy, said the government is “working hard on finding a solution” to the sector’s problems. The issue is on the agenda of the meeting of regional ministers taking place today.