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Belgian coast tourism boasts recovery over winter holidays

09:00 09/01/2024

Tourism on the Belgian coast saw a 5% increase over 2022 with a total of 1.7 million overnight stays and some 550,000 day trips during the winter holidays, indicating a solid post-pandemic recovery for the sector.

The days between Christmas and New Year were the most popular of the two-week holiday period, according to figures from provincial body Westtoer, with New Year's Eve being the busiest night of the year.

Hotels along the coast recorded an average occupancy rate of 70% for the period, a stable figure compared with last year. The number of foreign tourists was up 12% on the previous winter holidays.

Despite the gloomy weather, 550,000 day-trippers flocked to the coast – an increase of 5%, according to the West Flanders tourist office.

Part of the draw were events organised by various coastal municipalities, such as the James Ensor exhibition in Ostend.

“The coast is positioning itself more than ever as a popular four-season destination,” said Sabien Lahaye-Battheur, president of Westtoer.

A rise in tourism was not limited to the coast, either. Bruges also saw record numbers of visitors, including almost 71,000 tourists in one day on 23 December.

The month of December as a whole saw at least one million tourists, even more than those welcomed during the summer.

In total, at least 8.3 million visitors flocked to Bruges’ historic centre in 2023, representing an average of 27,500 visitors a day and equalling the record set in 2018.

“The figures confirm what we have known for a long time: international tourism is on the increase and will continue to grow in the years to come,” said Bruges' tourism alderman Mieke Hoste.

“These visitors are never all in the city at the same time. As in previous years, the peak is between 12.00 and 15.00. There’s a better spread over time, and we are actively pursuing this policy with targeted initiatives in the interests of the city's quality of life.”

Almost half of the visitors to Bruges were Belgian, but their share fell slightly last year. Figures show that it was mainly travellers from the UK (+38%), Spain (+34%) and Italy (+19%) who visited the city. American interest also rose sharply by 79%.

Written by Helen Lyons