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Visit Britain, you’re invited!
Nothing comes more to mind in August than holidays. So before I depart, happy but exhausted, for my annual holiday, allow me to focus on Belgian tourism across the Channel.
One of the great pleasures of being Ambassador is that people can’t wait to tell me in glowing terms about their stay in the UK, whether as a student, tourist or on a business trip. Britain might be a medium-sized island in terms of geography, but for many Belgians it has carved out a big place in their hearts and minds.
Last year 1,1 million Belgians visited the United Kingdom, accounting for 3.6% of all Belgian overseas visits. That’s a 12% increase in numbers spent compared to five years ago. Even better there’s a 25% increase in nights stayed and a 27 % increase in spending. As Visit Britain’s CEO Sandy Dawe recently told me on her visit here, more than 60% of Belgian visitors to the UK make a repeat visit!
But what is it that makes Britain so attractive for Belgians that it ranks third after France and Spain as preferred destination? It can’t be a change in the weather. Many credit the vibrant, dynamic and cosmopolitan cities such as London, which attracts half of all Belgian visitors. No surprise that 58% of Belgian visitors arrive by Eurostar.
For London it's not only the classic landmarks like Big Ben, or red buses such as the one that visited Belgium in June, but also... football stadiums, shopping and theatre.
At the embassy we work closely with our colleagues from VisitBritain - the national tourism agency, responsible for marketing Britain worldwide - to showcase Britain’s breathtaking variety and encourage even more Belgians to come and come again.
Britain’s urban attractions aren’t just London. Britain also counts great cities as Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow Belfast or Edinburgh, where the world’s largest art festival is being held right now with over 40,000 shows, including performances from five Flemish theatre groups under the name “Big in Belgium.”
We are told that one in ten Belgians has already been to the UK. Good but we want to do better. We want to encourage the 10% who have been to the UK to come again and to reach out to the other 90%.
One of the novel ways used to promote heritage and tourism was when VisitBritain and the political section of the embassy teamed up for a tour through Brussels with a cardboard Buckingham Palace guard Jones (as pictured), stopping at iconic Brussels landmarks and inviting passersby to have their picture taken.
And we’re not just promoting the cities. There are 28 world heritage sites in Britain and 15 national parks. 2013 is the year of Natural Scotland. Never forget that we also count the Scottish Highland or Welsh castles, Stonehenge or Loch Ness as heritage!
And I said last year at an event promoting Leeds, what better time to visit the Yorkshire countryside than during next year’s opening for the Tour de France?
And for those who love our literature, what better occasion to visit the quintessential villages and countryside of Kent or Sussex as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, who will feature on the next £10 note?
So if you're planning a holiday in Britain, looking for events, accommodation, travel tips or practical information, the best place to start for research is the award-winning website VisitBritain.com!
And if you are from Britain, don’t hesitate to recommend the homeland to potential visitors.
If you haven't been to Great-Britain yet, what are you waiting for? You're invited! As last year’s Olympics showed, the welcome is much warmer than people think.