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Brussels a Capital city

As European capital of institutions, Brussels’ tourism is driven by international business clientele. However, the Belgian capital also relies on its culture. Comic strips, international artists, art of living, green spaces, it has all it takes to attract two types of clientele who, a priori, never cross one another’s paths. Public and private powers work together to host the member of the European Parliament during the week while tourists continue their quest for cultural references in a cosmopolitan environment.

Brussels and its European institutions, Brussels and its museums, Brussels and its busy nightlife where a glass of local beer in one hand goes well with a cone of French fries in the other. Brussels and its celebrities from Jacques Brel to Marguerite Yourcenar and the Manneken Pis… as many ordinary and famous names that feed the image on a daily basis as well as the appeal necessarily created by the European capital. And of course there are the linguistic, identifying or political subtleties that add a surrealist touch to the city that gave birth to the eponymous art movement.Business and Leisure: all Brussels’ tourism actors skillfully operate on the two niches. One strong demand from the BITC remains to go even further: a major symbolic architectural project that is able to provide the city with a “Guggenheim effect”. Everyone has a project in mind: the construction of a building that embodies the image of Cultural Brussels at the heart of Jubilee Park. In the meantime, the works of Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, previously exhibited in museum installed in an old residence, have elected domicile in a area entirely dedicated to the artist in a 2,500 sq.m pace. Will this museum, which will open its doors in June 2009, embody this new, coveted image the way Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum does?It is true that Brussels is not short of paradoxes. Capital of Europe, Belgium and the region, Brussels is an enclave in the Flemish region. The majority of its one million inhabitants are francophone, but more than a quarter of its population is foreign. Complex, torn by tension, the capital of this multicultural country nonetheless tries to demonstrate that in terms of tourism, strength comes through unity. Since 1996, the TIB (Tourisme International de Brussels) has reorganized itself around several public entities, the Office de promotion du tourisme of Walloon-Brussels (OPT) and its Dutch equivalent, the Toerism Vlaanderen (TVI), in addition to the professional federation Horeca (Hotels, Restaurants and Bars).The fusion, in 2001, of TIB and Brussels Congrès led to the creation of the BITC (Brussels International Tourisme et Congrès), which, since 2005, created two different poles: one of a commercial nature (Comice) and the other for events (BGE, Office of lage events). This union aims to reinforce the city’s promotion and improve its visibility. Even if the undertaking had some mis.res … it is not always evident to win unanimity when it comes to promoting the cultural heritage of Brussels. André Vrydagh explains: “The comic book continues to be greatly appreciated by Francophones whereas the Flemish don’t make it their battle horse. Although the image of a destination is hardly monolithic, we must create a veritable identity platform that would help us sell the destination abroad while taking advantage of all Brussels’ tourism actors. In this regard, the International Development Plan of our Minister-President Charles Piqué, planned for next Spring, should promote this momentum.”Testifying to this centralizing will, communications were developed around the anniversary of the World Exposition of 1958 which will be managed by the website of the BITC. “Expo58 at the Atomium remains a national event where Belgium’s nostalgic aura predominates,” adds André Vrydagh, co-director at the BITC. Another event this year: from September, in partnership with the Walloon-Brussels OPT, some hoteliers and the Folon Foundation, the “Journeys to the land of Folon” will offer a retrospective dedicated to Belgian multidisciplinary artist. The only city to celebrate the 9th art, the home of Tintin and the Schtroumpfs, Brussels is also preparing a major comic book event for 2009.The year 2007 was splendorous and rich with events for leisure tourism with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. After the year of fashion and design in 2006, “Brussels, my capital, my European neighborhoods” participated in showcasing the city’s European nature through six thematic walks marked by information totem polls in seven languages, telling the history of Europe over the centuries. Young people were also targeted in 2007 with Manneken Pass, which provides information about the city and offers discounts at the city’s museums and other attractions.All these events have a primary goal: to boost the Leisure segment. “These years re-main the most evidential of this success. After the first Assises du tourisme, which revealed a major imbalance between weekend nights and weekday Business clientele, we worked to promote the city’s cultural aspect. This trend has been affirmed with the fashion of city breaks and the development of low cost flights and high speed trains in the region,” explains André Vrydagh. In fact, culturally speaking, Brussels has no reason to envy its European neighbors. The city has more than 80 museums of which the famous Jubilee Park is home to no less than four. Brussels may also boast status as a green city with more green spaces than any other city in Europe representing more than 8,000 hectares of greenery.The benefits of advertising campaigns for the destination Brussels have rapidly borne their fruit. The gap between the leisure and business segments shrank significantly. Leisure room nights count for 45% when business clientele represents 40%. A combined effort by tourism actors and Brussels’ hoteliers is summed up by Mme Bouchard, hotel promotions manager for the BITC: “In order to make up for the desertion of our weekday clientele, hoteliers are multiplying their messages to business travelers to encourage them to extend their stays, with their families, to weekends. They implement packages for the weekend while trying to develop the loyalty of their clientele.”The results are clear. In 2007, the increase of the OR (+3.3 points) coupled with the average daily rate (+7.1%) ended in a significant increase in the RevPAR (+12.1% on average) for Brussels’ hotel supply. The total number of nights was 4.8 million (4.5 million in 2006) with an average length of stay of 1.9 day. Domestic tourism remains the number one supplier for the hotel industry with 681,760 nights, an increase by 15% over 2006. British tourism, always the primary source of international tourism, seems to be in a downturn (-3.2%). France and Germany are next with 549,500 nights (+1.8%) and 382,000 (+12.4%) respectively and Spanish clientele with 308,600 (+12.6%). Indian clientele, meanwhile, is up significantly – doubled in one year – although this niche remains exclusive with fewer than 30,000 nights. Eastern European countries also constitute a reserve, supplying increasing volumes of clientele: Russia (48,000, +15.2%), Poland (47,000, +12.2%), Romania (31,000, +33.9%), Slovakia (10,000, +34.4%), Latvia (6,500, 29.4%).The renewed balance between the Business and Leisure segments is visible in the figures provided by the tourism Observatory. Nonetheless, while openly courting tourists, the Belgian capital has not forgotten the basics. Thus the appearance of a new segment: Business & Leisure. Difficult to choose why coming to Brussels, it must be for both reasons! The Belgian capital continues to be a stronghold for business tourism in Europe. Base of the European Parliament, many international institutions (120 institutional organizations and 1,400 NGOs), Brussels has no fewer than 159 embassies and 250,000 diplomats, making it the second biggest quarters worldwide in terms of diplomatic representatives after Washington. With more than 16,000 business symposia each year, Brussels has infrastructures in every corner of the city. The Rogier neighborhood, in the northeast, accommodates large events. The Europe neighborhood with its small and medium infrastructures is perfectly located at the heart of institutions. The neighborhoods Louise and Grand’Place attract more businessmen who shop, go out and enjoy history when their workday is over while benefiting from state of the art structures and prestigious hotels.Nonetheless, with regard to MICE clientele, which are significantly more profitable, the BITC and its commercial branch very much hope for the reopening of the Palais des congrès in 2009. Scheduled for September 2009, The Square will allow the city to once again benefit from an International congress area worthy of this name after its closing in 2003. But it is still necessary, as Bruxelles International Tourisme & Congrès points out, for Brussels’ hotel supply to accommodate it. Finding a balance between the availability of infrastructures and capacity terms of accommodations are the major challenges for sustaining MICE clientele. Today, one in three requests are satisfied and professionals responsible for addressing this type of clientele in their campaigns hope to develop this segment further. For the year 2007, the revenues generated by the efforts of the Comice surpass 61 million euros. Under the aegis of the BITC and its partners, the new campaigns are taking shape. The “Let’s meet 2007” and “After hours” guides along with the website and its newsletter addressing organizers and the blog “Brussels Meeting Boudoir”, where professionals and non-professionals may post their impressions about different themes (hotels, restaurants, media), have all become the tools necessary for selling the destination. And all these ideas are debated each year during “Brussels Meeting Week” where each professional in the sector (hoteliers, press, political figures) is sensitized about the interest of meetings for the city of Brussels.At the end of 2007, Brussels’ hotel supply had slightly over 160 hotels. The Belgian capital concentrates 23% the country’s global hotel supply and 43% of the corporate chain supply. More than 60% of its supply is positioned in the up and midscale segments. The same proportion of them may be found in the center of Brussels city, next St Josse (12%), St Gilles (10%), Ixelles (7%) and Evere (3%). “The hotel supply is basically stable. With the reopening of the Palais des congrès as Square Brussels in 2009 and the relaxation of the moratorium established by the government regarding the opening of hotels in Brussels, the hotel supply should grow in the years to come,” explains Sophie Bouchard. For a while, this moratorium forced hoteliers to allocate part of their infrastructures to residential housing in Brussels. It is thus that Sofitel Europe had to dedicate its top floor to building lofts. Brussels also follows the trend for resolutely upscale and design hotels with the successive opening of several hotels of the genre such as the Bloom – ex-Royal Crown – with its 306 rooms and suites. The high design boutique hotel Be Manos with 60 rooms, located near the Midi train station, the terminal station for the Thalys and Eurostar, in a neighborhood that is being revitalized. This hotel has become the hideout of international stars and a business clientele in search of a less standardized offer. The third hotel of the Poulgouras family in the Belgian capital, this new concept fills its rooms on weekdays and weekends alike.The newcomer is the Dolce La Hulpe Brussels which, with 264 rooms and 4,700 sq.m of meeting spaces including 2 auditoriums, 25 conference rooms, fills its primary role as a meeting center. But it also plays a cultural role as Anne Clinckspoor, its marketing director remarks: “We hope to develop the leisure segment of our resort. We are partners of the Folon exposition. Our property has a statue and silk screens by this artist. Our Chef reinterprets the artist’s work in his palette of flavors. We also have an auditorium where operas are regularly performed.”Business and Leisure: all Brussels’ tourism actors skillfully operate on the two niches. One strong demand from the BITC remains to go even further: a major symbolic architectural project that is able to provide the city with a “Guggenheim effect”. Everyone has a project in mind: the construction of a building that embodies the image of Cultural Brussels at the heart of Jubilee Park. In the meantime, the works of Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, previously exhibited in museum installed in an old residence, have elected domicile in a area entirely dedicated to the artist in a 2,500 sq.m pace. Will this museum, which will open its doors in June 2009, embody this new, coveted image the way Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum does?

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