Belgium focuses on tourism sector for economic recovery after terrorism attacks

Belgian tourism offer is characterised by cycling tourism, food & wine tours and cultural visits. In spite of the presence of several European institutions, in fact, there is a strong demand for leisure tourism in the Country. As reported by the World Travel & Tourism Council in the “Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2017”, in 2016 the tourism expense in the leisure segment, both from domestic and international tourists, represented 73,6% of the direct contribution to the Travel & Tourism industry GDP. In the same year, Belgium welcomed about 8.4mn tourists, and the tourism segment generated a direct contribution of 9.4bn euros, namely 2,2% of the Country’s GDP. The WTTC expects this to grow up to 2,7% in 2027. The total contribution, which includes the indirect and induced ones, was 23.8bn euros, namely 5,6%.

According to the “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017” published by the World Economic Forum, Belgium ranks 21th out of 136 analysed Countries for tourism competitiveness. In particular, strong points of the Country as a tourism destination are the accessibility through ground and port infrastructure (6th) and the quality of air transport infrastructure (19th), cultural resources and business travel (17th), international openness (28th), tourism service infrastructure (31st) and the attention paid to environmental sustainability (35th). Weaker points are price competitiveness (105th) and the attention towards natural resources (122nd).

Belgian economy, and the tourism industry, were affected by international terrorism episodes, in particular in March 2016 in Bruxelles, with the attacks at Zaventem airport and at the underground station Maelbeek, near the headquarters of the European Union. According to the official statistics, the number of passengers from Europe, the USA and Canada decreased by 10% circa. According to DeRedactie.be, Belgian news portal, at the end of 2016 terrorism attacks caused a loss of 2.4bn euros of the GDP. According to a study commissioned by the Government on the immediate effects on the economy, in the months following the attacks, the unemployment rate in the catering sector grew by 186% and in the hospitality industry by 157%. The UK Foreign Travel Advice, in fact, reports that there is an high risk deriving from terrorism, in particular in the capital.

In Belgium, tourism falls under the exclusive competence of the three regions: Bruxelles, Wallonia and Flanders. In Wallonia, the tourism industry follows the guidelines of the report “2014 – 2019 Regional Policy Declaration”, which aims to make the region a tourism destination leading the recovery of the Country’s economy, through the creation of targeted package holidays promoting cultural, food and wine tourism and events, qualified employers in the sector and international partnerships. In Flanders, the DMO called VisitFlanders, which in 2015 had a 80mn euros budget, wants to promote the region through food and wine tourism and through the brand linked to the famous Flemish artists. Moreover, improving the infrastructure in the accommodation sector is considered as a key point to enhance the tourism offer.

Belgium started many international partnerships, for example with China, in order or enhance tourism performances. Moreover, the Government started several initiatives to increase accessibility to the Country. An example is Hi Belgium Pass, which joined the forces of Brussels Airlines, Brussels Airport, NMBS/SNCB Railways, VisitFlanders, the Belgian Office for Tourism-Wallonia, VisitBrussels, the city of Bruxelles and many other cities. It is a new travel solution designed to promote Belgium in Europe, and which offers a round-trip air ticket, unlimited train travels and the entrance to museums and tourism attractions for less than 150 euro.

At Twissen we observed that, even if Belgium was heavily affected by the terrorism attacks, the Country is reacting with relevant policies and initiatives. The resilience that Europe proved as a tourism destination is a strong point for Belgium in the recovery of its economy.