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Brussels cruise terminal used by just six boats since start of 2020

14:23 12/11/2021

Brussels’ new river cruise terminal is hoping for a brighter 2022, after seeing its traffic almost eliminated since the pandemic began.

The Brussels Cruise Terminal, funded to the tune of €5.2 million by the Brussels region, the port of Brussels and the European Union, was completed in 2018 along the canal in Neder-over-Heembeek.

Opinions vary on whether the terminal has been a positive addition and a boost to Brussels’ economy or a waste of money and a failure. One local trader told RTBF: "Since the terminal was set up, no exaggeration, I must have seen 10 cruise ships at most. "In my opinion, it was useless work that cost a few million and that bothered us for four years. It had a strong impact on my business."

Another shopkeeper in the neighbourhood added: “I’ve seen 20 to 25 boats. There may have been more. If the question is whether this terminal is useful, I won't say much so far. After that, we have to see what future developments will be.”

Sylvain Godfroid, spokesman for the Port of Brussels, responded: “Since the inauguration of the terminal in April 2018, 150 cruise ships have docked there.” This added up to more than 19,000 passengers. The Waterbus shuttle, which also stops there, is not counted in the figures.

In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic reduced cruise activity to nil. In 2020, out of the 68 planned reservations, only four boats came to Brussels. 

"In 2021, we had 64 reservations but ultimately 54 cancellations. Two boats have moored. Eight are still expected in November and December," he added.

“2022 promises to be brighter with already 55 bookings. But there is no indication that there will be no further withdrawals or new sanitary measures. Regardless, 150 boats over a year and a half was a good start before the stoppage linked to Covid which affected cruise activity not only in Brussels but throughout the world."

The Port of Brussels has ambitious plans for this terminal. A study forecasts the disembarkation of 35,000 passengers per year by 2030 at the Brussels Cruise Terminal, with annual economic benefits of €5 million. Before the terminal's inauguration, 12,000 passengers disembarked annually in Brussels but at the Heembeek quay which is closer to the city centre.

CroisiEurope, one of the players in river cruises which offers tours between Amsterdam and Brussels, confirms that it is not a fan of the Brussels Cruise Terminal for this reason. "The idea as a river cruise operator, our strength, is to be moored in the heart of cities. At Heembeek quay, we are in the heart of Brussels, which is not the case at all at the Cruise Terminal," said spokesman Axel Araszkiewicz.

"The Heembeek quay may be closer to the city center but whether they disembark there or at the new terminal the passengers board buses to visit Brussels," responded the port spokesman, Sylvain Godfroid. "In any case, the position of the Port of Brussels is to use as a priority the Cruise Terminal, which is designed specifically for cruise ships, and where it is more pleasant to disembark. Also, the cruise terminal was developed in collaboration with the cruise operators.”

There is one major lack that needs to be filled and that is finding a tenant for the building. A restaurant was slated to open and an agreement had been signed but the uncertainty caused by the pandemic put an end to that deal and the port is weighing its options.

Written by Richard Harris