Brussels tourism at near halt since attacks

Hotel visitors at all-time low since March attacks.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

18 Apr 2016

Tourist bosses in Belgium have voiced concern at the "devastating" impact of the recent terrorist attacks on Brussels.

Hotels in the Belgian capital have reported a spate of cancellations, with the terrorist threat usually cited as the reason, and visitor numbers for Brussels have plummeted.

After the closure of Zaventem airport, thousands of flights were cancelled, forcing hundreds of thousands of passengers to change their travel plans.


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According to the Brussels Hotel Association, Brussels hotels have never had so few customers, with only 20 per cent of rooms occupied, an all-time low. It said the attacks brought tourism to a near halt, forcing hotels to significantly lower their rates.

The association is calling the situation an "outright crisis" and urged for help by introducing a special unemployment status for hotel staff.

Françoise Scheepers, of the Belgian Tourist Office-Brussels and Wallonia, said, "The hotel and restaurant sector in Brussels had been suffering since the Brussels lockdown. Just as it was starting to recover, the attacks of 22 March took place and this, unfortunately, again had a negative impact. 

"The political instances are well aware of the situation, and in addition to the extra security measures taken, which are paying off, the Belgian government has put in place a type of circumstantial unemployment mechanism to support those companies that have been affected and allow them to take the necessary transitory measures while still being able to function without the burden of charges and fixed costs.

"We can only hope that the international police cooperation that we are now seeing at work will help keep us safe from other attacks, in Brussels or elsewhere, and that everybody can get back to normal as soon as possible."

Comme Chez Soi, generally regarded as the finest restaurant in Brussels, has become an unwitting victim of the fall-out from the terrorist attracts that struck the city's airport and metro system last month, killing 32 people.

Chef and owner Lionel Rigolet has spoken of "Brussels dying" since the twin attacks on 22 March, telling the Belgian financial daily newspaper De Tijd, "Restaurants and hotels are as good as empty. Everyone is avoiding the city centre and one business after another is closing in Brussels."

The restaurant relies for a lot of its trade on visitors from the United States, China and Japan.

But since the attacks and those in Paris on 13 November which led to Brussels being on lockdown for several days just before Christmas, many of these are staying away.

A current international €1m promotional campaign seeks to restore the image of the city, which has been portrayed around the world as a "hotbed" of Islamic militancy. 

Brussels minister Guy Vanhengel says, "The idea is to show the international community that life in Brussels is back to normal, that life is good here."

 

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