Last updated: 08:03 PM ET, Sat November 28 2015

Brussels Welcoming Tourists Back With Cats

Destination & Tourism | Michael Isenbek | November 28, 2015

Brussels Welcoming Tourists Back With Cats

Photo via Twitter/alexanderdecroo

A five-day lockdown in Brussels, put in place after threats of a Paris-style attack, has been lifted, and an unlikely mascot has emerged from this tense period, one that locals hope will encourage tourists to flood back into the city: the lolcat.

As the Associated Press reported, Brussels citizens were urged not to share information on social media about the ongoing anti-terrorist raids by authorities during the five-day lockdown, so instead, cheeky feline photos flooded cyberspace.

There were tweets of cats with paws up in mock surrender, disguised as police snipers and sporting a bowler hat, the trademark of Rene Magritte, Belgium's greatest surrealist painter, the AP said. Police tweeted a bowl of cat food as a thank-you gesture, and now those in charge of tourist sites are melding images of cats and Brussels landmarks as a tourist draw.

One such attraction is the Atomium, a giant nine-sphere metal sculpture of an iron crystal (created for the 1958 World’s Fair) that is one of the city's leading destinations — but few tourists showed up in the last week, the AP said. Spokesperson Inge Van Eycken told the AP, “there was no precedent” for closing the Atomium over terrorism concerns, but she declared, "We think some cats will help." Van Eycken pointed out to the AP the trending image that replaces the nine metallic spheres with cat heads. But no actual cats will be in attendance at the attraction, she hastened to add.

Belgian broadcaster VRT, via the AP, estimated Saturday that the lockdown cost the national economy 52 million euros ($55 million) per day. Patrick Bontick, head of Brussels' tourism office, told the AP that hotels reported a 20 percent drop in hotel bookings during the week.

But at a time when the just-opened Christmas market could be a holiday shopper magnet, Bontick said to the AP that he hopes tourists are reassured that authorities have done all they can to protect the city.

A Belgian through and through, he’s on board with the cat theme as well.

"Even in a bad situation, we can also have some humor in Brussels," he told the AP. "We're a surrealistic country," he said, adding he hoped the cats would convey that it's a "friendly" city.

"We have faced four really difficult days, but now it's over," he said. "Life has begun again."

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