Visit Brussels Uses Tourism Themes to Increase Visitor Numbers
By James Ruggia
September 18, 2012 10:34 PM
Visit Brussels is using themes as a successful approach to attract visitors to the destination. “Themes give you a reason to talk about and visit the city,” said Annette Choynacki, the director of the Belgian Tourist Office and French-speaking Belgium. Following Fashion and Design in 2006 and the comic strip in 2009, the Brussels Capital Region highlighted gastronomy with the Brusselicioustheme year in 2012.
Up to 2009, the number of overnight stays in Brussels rose by around 1 to 2 percent annually, and in 2009 they rose 9 percent. “What really shocked me was 2008,” said Choynacki. “Our numbers went up despite the economic crisis and the fact that every other part of Europe got hurt.”
Despite the current crisis, in 2011 Brussels nevertheless managed an increase of 6.9 percent. Brussels should also continue being spared from the crisis in 2012, with an increase in the number of overnight stays by 3.5 percent in July and 4.5 percent in August, compared with the same months last year. If this trend continues, by the end of 2012 there will have been around 6.3 million overnight stays (compared with 6 million last year). This means that Brussels is still on course for reaching its goal of 10 million overnights stays in 2020.
“Gastronomy is a strong theme for us,” said Choynacki. “People are much more knowledgeable about Belgian cuisine. It used to be all they knew about were the chocolates, but the beer has become a Belgian icon. It’s taking off with Americans just as wine did 40 years ago.”
The gastronomy year began with the world record for chef’s hat throwing on Brussels’ Grande Place. From suppliers, artisans and caterers up to the city’s major chefs, on Jan. 9 they together threw 665 chef’s hats in the air. The Tram Experience, which combines fine dining with a trolley ride around the city, set out for the first time in March. It runs six days a week, allowing people to savor a menu created by a two-star-crowned chef, while discovering the capital in an especially fun way. Today, 10,000 reservations for the tram have already been made.
Throughout the year, 25 hotels have been serving specially themed Brusselicious breakfasts consisting of local products. The 300,000th breakfast was served on Aug. 28. Brusselicious also linked up with other Brussels themes. During the Ommegang, people could experience how an early evening meal would have been in the time of Emperor Charles; for the National Holiday, the Place Jeu de Balle/Vossenplein was transformed into a real Resto National; and during the Comic Strip Dinner, young and old alike sampled street food. Around 2,500 people attended these dinners. The Slow Food Dinner is being held on Sept. 20 and on Oct. 25 participants can gather round a table with jazz harmonica master Toots Thielemans for his 90th birthday. On April 8, Brusselicious secured its second world record, with over 5,500 people gathering 505,000 Easter eggs in 10 different Brussels parks on that day.