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Brussels: good results by handicaps remain

Brussels may be proud of its results this August.The RevPAR posts growth by 9.7%. Occupancy rates are decidedly back on an uptrend since the beginning of the year. Nonetheless, average daily rates are not yet following the same path, showing that strong competition is not yet a thing of the past.

Summer in Brussels was favourable to hoteliers in the Belgian capital. For the month of August, the occupancy rate of properties was up by nearly 12 points. And, despite a drop in average daily rates by 2%, revenue per available room is close to doubledigit growth (+ 9.7 %). Aside from a sharp decline in April, the beginning of the year 2006 attests to a recovery for Brussels' hotel industry that may be credited to a renewed appeal at a time when rates are stable. "We are coming out of a grey period," admits Vincent Steinmetz, director of the Hotel Saint Nicolas and president of Brussels’ hoteliers. Growth of the RevPAR is clear over twelve cumulated months (+7.4%). The economic situation is favourable. And Brussels continues to enjoy its manna: the European Union. Being the headquarters of the institutions ensures Brussels a substantial and regular volume of business that allows the city to post no vacancy several times a year. Nonetheless Brussels seems to have got what it can from this source of clientele. "The members of parliament from these future members of the Union are already in our properties. Preparatory negotiations take place well in advance," observes Vincent Steinmetz. Brussels is in search of new sources of clientele, because for the president of Brussels hoteliers association, the good results of 2006 must be put in perspective. "On the whole they are not so good as all that". The city is positioned at the bottom of the ranking for European tourism. This is worrisome: average daily rates remain under pressure with a slight increase by 0.4% on 12 cumulated months. "They cannot improve until demand rises above the supply". This is a challenge at time when the number of hotels continues to grow. Considering Brussels’ strategic position, the city is in fact a "place to be". Every hotel group owes it to themselves to be present in the capital of Europe’s institutions. "This is part of the strategy of hotel groups. Whatever the cost," remarks Vincent Steinmetz. The problem: as far as tourism is concerned, the city is not investing all its energy in the quest for new clients. In the Kingdom of Belgium, the disunity is weakening. Its international promotion of tourism suffers from incoherency. Brussels is at once the capital of French and Flemish communities and of the regions of Flanders and Brussels-Capital. Four communications services and two regulatory ministers oversee the promotion of the city. "This dispersion of communications goes hand in hand with the dissolution of means," lament Vincent Steinmetz. Congress tourism could bring a breath of fresh air to Brussels’ properties allowing them to regain a manoeuvring margin for rates. This is a cheering perspective in the long term only. For now, the European capital has no Congress infrastructure worthy of this name. The Palais des Congrès closed its doors in 2003. Since then the city hasn’t benefited from the profitable MICE segment. "Yet, market studies show that the city can accommodate two exhibition infrastructures without any problem," explains Vincent Steinmetz. If all goes well, on September 20, 2009, the Palais des Congrès should reopen its doors. Then there is the possibility of a new congress centre near Heysel, but in an even more distant future.

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