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Analysis

Ghent, Flemish art at its best

Lying at the confluence of the Scheldt and the Lys, the capital of East Flanders is enjoying hotel performances that have improved significantly in recent years. Despite security challenges that marked Belgium’s hotel industry in 2016, Charles V’s city promotes its historic and cultural assets, and welcomes a growing number of visitors. Midway between Bruges and Brussels, which are both popular tourist destinations, the Flemish city is right to boast how well tourism suits it too.

Located in the north of Belgium, 60 kilometers from Brussels, Ghent is the third most populated town in the country after Antwerp. With 250,000 inhabitants and close to 455,000 in greater Ghent, it boasts strong dynamism: the country’s third port and leading student city (with a student population representing around one fifth of the total number of inhabitants), it is part of the “Flemish Diamond” made up of the cities of Leuven, Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp. Its economy is industrial: a center for textiles since the Middle Ages, it has since modernized with cutting-edge automobile and services industries.

Historically, the Flemish city flourished between the 10th and 15th centuries, when Ghent was one of the most prosperous cities in Europe. A number of treasures have come down to us from this golden age: the city’s historic center is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, together with the Castle of the Counts of Flanders, the Belfry and Saint Nicholas Church, offering perspective on the city’s glorious past. With no fewer than 23 museums, including the famous Museum of Fine Arts where the great names in Flemish painting are glorified, the local tourist office (Visit Ghent) claims there are 653 restaurants and 620 cafés that pay homage to Belgian gastronomy.

The capital of East Flanders also organizes many cultural events, first and foremost is the Ghent Festival (Gentse Feesten), one of the biggest festivals in Europe that is held for ten days and ten nights each summer.  Each day over 100,000 people attend, for a total of around 1.7 million in recent years. Ballet, Opera and the Flanders–Ghent International Film Festival complete the offer.

History, architecture, beaux-arts and cultural events come together to make Ghent a new tourist destination.  With a total of 1,425 rooms in 13 chain properties in 2017, Ghent’s hotel supply is the third largest in the country after Brussels and Antwerp. Its RevPAR (Revenue per available room) has grown steadily over the past five years, with exception to 2016, when it was hit by a wave of security concerns along with the rest of the country. Between 2012 and 2015, it grew by 10.7%, driven by an occupancy rate that was up by 5 points (82.3% in 2015) and average daily rates up by 7.7%.

Ghent’s hotel performances since the beginning of 2017 look favorable and should make it easier to overlook the previous year’s troubles: on the first six months of 2017, its average RevPAR rose by more than 6.8% compared to the same indicator the previous year. Comparing the figures to the entire Flemish region, Toerisme Vlaanderen shows a growing number of visitors  and nights since 2004.

The American magazine Condé Nast Traveller recently called the Flemish city a “Surprise European city-break sensation of 2017”. Its hotel industry generates 600 full-time jobs, and the manna of tourism is opening wider and wider as the city becomes more broadly known. Proof is that the Flemish city,  in turn, wants to limit the impact of AirBnB on its territory by creating obligatory standards for such accommodations. The dynamic and promising capital of art and history is expected to continue to improve its performances in its rise among the most popular European destinations.

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