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Brussels tourism continues its slow recovery

08:55 12/01/2023

As Belgium continues to recover sluggishly from the pandemic, the capital is seeing a recovering hotel sector, although Brussels Airport is still not yet seeing pre-Covid levels of travel.

The number of bookings in Brussels hotels increased in 2022, according to the Brussels Hotels Association (BHA).

“The recovery is particularly visible in the leisure tourism sector,” said Rodophe Van Weyenbergh, BHA’s secretary general.

On some weekends, especially in the second half of the year, occupancy rates were the same as in 2019, which is seen as a peak year. Hotels in the city centre districts and around Avenue Louise saw particularly high rates.

“Business tourism, on the other hand, still remains far below the pre-crisis figures,” Van Weyenbergh added.

While tourist office visit.brussels confirmed that visitors are on the rise, rates have not yet returned to the level of 2019, the last year before the pandemic.

Occupancy rates for Brussels hotels were 63.2% in December, a popular holiday period, but the 2022 average was 58.7%, far from the 74.6% recorded in pre-pandemic 2019.

The sector noted that the first months of the year are traditionally quieter, but that this factor was compounded by the lingering effects of the health crisis. Nevertheless, tourism professionals are optimistic about the second half of the year.

“This is a major boost for the capital's hotel industry after two particularly difficult years,” visit.brussels said in a statement, adding that figures were particularly good for weekends.

Many tourists from neighbouring countries, especially France, made reservations for those days.

But figures were lower during the week, as the hotel industry is still awaiting the return of business tourism. For now, most visitors are tourists coming for leisure purposes.

The initial outlook for 2023 is promising, with flight bookings for the coming months indicating that many Italians and Spaniards will fly into Brussels. Bookings are lower for tourists from outside of Europe, says visit.brussels.

These upcoming flights do not mean that Brussels Airport is back to business as usual.

While compared to the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, a sharp increase was seen in air traffic at Brussels Airport for 2022, Bruzz reports that pre-Covid levels have not yet been reached.

The number of aircraft movements at Brussels Airport totaled 178,929 in 2022, according to the ombudsman's office, higher than 2021 (118,735 flight movements) and almost double the number in 2020 (95,812), when the pandemic prompted these figures to plummet to the lowest level since the early 1970s.

While 2022 did indeed represent a substantial recovery, the pre-pandemic traffic of 2019, which saw 234,461 aircraft movements, are still a way off.

The levels of night-time flights are similar to their pre-COVID days, with 16,916 night flights in 2022 compared to 17,347 in 2019 and 17,698 in 2018.

'MICE' tourism (meetings, incentives, conventions and events) is important to Brussels.

“It is business tourists who spend the most in restaurants and shops,” visit.brussels spokesman Jeroen Roppe told La Libre.

“Fortunately, the coming months look promising: we have been able to attract quite a lot of conferences.”

Written by Helen Lyons