Two school holidays better than one for Belgian coast tourism
Changes to school holiday dates in Belgium's French-speaking schools appear to be having a positive effect on tourism on the Belgian coast, new figures suggest.
Despite some disappointing weather, West Flanders tourist office Westtoer said it was satisfied with visitor numbers, with 1.8 million day-trippers recorded over the spring holidays.
For the first time this year, pupils in French- and Dutch-speaking schools do not share the same holiday dates, effectively spreading the demand for a trip to the seaside over a longer period than before.
Schools in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation have a new schedule, with seven weeks of school followed by two weeks of holiday - meaning longer half-term breaks, a slightly shorter summer holiday and a fixed spring break that does not necessarily coincide with Easter.
This year, for example, families with children in Dutch-language schools were on holiday from 3-16 April, while French-speakers had their break a month later, from 1-14 May.
While the 1.8 million estimated day trips this spring is slightly down compared to the same period last year - a drop of about 5% - the number of recorded overnight stays remained stable year-on-year at 2.6 million.
Hotels on the coast reported a 5% increase in occupancy compared to last year's spring holidays. The increase in hotel bookings is particularly noticeable in the first half of May - 30% higher than last year, due to the adjusted school holidays.
During the first two weeks of May, an estimated 750,000 day-trippers visited the Belgian coast, while 1.2 million overnight stays were recorded.
The long weekend around the 1 May public holiday was the busiest, with 220,000 day-trippers spread over the three days.
Money should not be a driving factor for this strange break in the school year.