Brussels is meeting the needs of its new destination identity

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Brussels is meeting the needs of its new destination identity

The capital of a continent and capital region of a country with various, distinct neighbourhoods, Brussels is heading towards a new identity through the coming decade.

It is already a multi-dimensional city. Cosmopolitan, with both green and urban areas, still possessing industry on its territory, and a hub for politics, science, business and culture with an international outlook.

Having committed to sustainable development and a circular economy in its regional strategy, Brussels is striving to become a resilient destination, which can seize the opportunities that emerge from the adverse conditions of the pandemic. Its aim is to have a strategy that combines tourism and residents’ well-being with urban and economic development.

Associating positive trends

Tourism in Brussels has been growing over the last decade. During the 2010-2020 period, the objective was to increase annual overnight stays from 5 to 10 million. In 2019 a record of 9.3 million overnight stays was reached. 2020 and 2021 have, of course, seen a major drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In parallel, Brussels has maintained its status as the capital of international headquarters – with over 2,400 on its territory – and Europe’s leader for association meetings (900 conferences per year). The rich association ecosystem drove visit.brussels to consolidate and enhance their meetings organisation offer and dedicated information for local operations. In addition, resources were invested in the organisation of the European Association Summit and seasonal events for associations in the city and an increased cooperation with other global destinations through the setup of the Global Associations Hub Partnership.

Celebrating its 5th anniversary in 2021, the Ambassadors Programme developed by the visit.brussels Convention and Association Bureau will be entering a new phase. Based on experience gained from its previous editions, more activities are expected in the medical, social sciences, territorial development and new technologies sectors, in alignment with Brussels’ key economic and scientific clusters.

Meeting in various districts

The meeting districts in Brussels have a diverse character, thanks to their architecture and historical character. You’ll find a combination of art and history in the city centre, a modern and corporate setting in the area around Brussels North train station, a functional business character around the Louise neighbourhood, a focus on trade fairs and large conferences at the former universal exhibition area of Heysel, and the transformation of urban industrial buildings into event venues in the south of Brussels.

Each of these areas has recently experienced a transformation of their character, due to larger pedestrian areas, giving more space for bars and restaurants, and a shift in urban space design with new mobility schemes and the rich diversity of the population with a mix of longstanding generations from Belgium and Brussels, expats, students and temporary workers.

Visitors to the city may enjoy the increased hotel offer. A comfortable stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott at Brussels Airport may ease your travel. Combining various business or diplomatic meetings and cultural activities in the vicinity of the Moxy Hotel in Ixelles and Hotel Avenue Louise by Wyndham Hotels & Resorts may be suitable for your trip. A more relaxed time closer to the city centre at DoubleTree by Hilton, the Holiday Inn Express Grande Place, and in the new five-star Juliana Hotel Brussels opened in September 2021.

Vaux Hall

Recent additions are also present, with new meeting venues such as Brussels Airport Company’s Skyhall for up to 2,000 people, in a former executive area of the airport, the Gare Maritime and Maison de la Poste conference centre at Tour & Taxis, a holder of the Europa Nostra recognition prize for an adaptation of a XIX century merchandise train hall into a multifunctional building, and Comet Meetings building in Louise’s business quarter, which offers a view of the city from its rooftop.

The fine conditions for events organisations have been ensured thanks to the deployment of Brussels Health and Safety Label, which applies to all operators in the tourism, hospitality, events and cultural sectors. Its objective is to guarantee that organisations have put in place the necessary health and safety measure for their staff and visitors. The label has a certification process and the list of those who have obtained it is constantly updated.

Labels are also becoming prominent in the sustainability domain, with a yearly increase in the number of holders of the Green Key Label among Meetings Industry partners (including hotels and event venues), not to mention the Access-I spaces which facilitate access to venues to all persons with reduced mobility.

A complete guide of all the meeting possibilities is contained in the “Let’s Meet in Brussels” guide released by visit.brussels

Relaunching in partnership

Initiated from the start of the crisis in spring 2020 with regular meetings between partners and public authorities, the Brussels tourism sector has worked tirelessly towards a recovery plan.

Focus now is on redeploying the tourism offer, particularly towards sustainable means of transport, but also to increase lengths of stays in order to reduce the environmental impact and maximise encounters between visitors and inhabitants. A large focus has been put on technological investments in venues, digitalisation within the whole sector, enhancing capacities in organisations and the sustainability and accessibility of facilities.

A virtual platform is already available at the Square Brussels convention centre, and all types of venues have invested in the latest audiovisual equipment, such as SILO Brussels, an event venue in a former brewery, Bluepoint Brussels, well located with the technology associations hub, or the renovated Brussels44Center.

Various immersive and touchless experiences have been made available at exhibitions and in museums. New digital experiences have also been put in place for city walks and incentives, including Belgian beer tastings.

Sustainable social innovation has also received a boost, with the alignment of local commerce and associations in meeting places such as Be-Here, GreenBizz or La Tricoterie.

“Moving forward with investments and innovation is more than a simple trend. Our activities result from open consultations and dialogue with various Brussels partners and stakeholders, also present internationally.” says Elisabeth Van Ingelgem, Director of the Strategy & International Development department at visit.brussels. “We will continue to combine our local expertise, heritage and rich association ecosystem to promote the opportunities available for organising meetings in Brussels and present the possibilities for exciting new areas such as health and medical care, urban development and mobility, education, artificial intelligence and technological evolution”.

The constant development

While already possessing a large offer in its heritage sites and modern venues, the changes in the city within the next decade will shape the city’s new identity and its meeting areas.

The KANAL modern art museum will open, changing the whole neighbourhood around it. Close to Brussels North station, on the banks of Brussels’ canal, the giant building will be more than just a museum. It will provide the district with a new public space for strolling, exhibitions and also meetings, delivering a whole new experience.

In the city centre, the former stock exchange building will become home to Belgian Beer World, offering a new experience to all those interested in Belgian’s beer culture (UNESCO heritage), as well as the possibility to host events. Located in the heart of the city’s large pedestrian zone and with the new metro line next to it, it promises to be a hotspot once it is open to the public in 2023.

European Parliament

The redesign of the European Quarter, Anderlecht’s industrial area and the area surrounding Brussels South station will offer a new experience for all business activities. Around the existing TV and radio stations headquarters located in the northeast Reyers area, a whole new Mediapark dedicated to the media and audiovisual world will began to take shape.

Brussels is steadily developing and continues to adapt its international dimension to current circumstances. With a new city marketing to come, Brussels wishes to show the diversity of the business opportunities available in this world of combined digital and presential meetings.

Brussels has what it takes to offer a priceless experience for all meetings!

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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