Visitor attractions in Belgium face a “double whammy” caused by the ongoing health pandemic.
All are having to come to terms with the country now entering the second confinement, or lockdown, in six months, with the attendant loss of income this involves.
This comes after such places lost out of the lucrative Easter period when Belgium was forced to lockdown for the first time due to the coronavirus crisis.
This week – the school half term – should have been one of the busiest of the whole year for visitor attractions and places of interest but all have been forced to close their doors, probably until mid-December at the earliest following last week’s decision by the Belgian government.
One such place that has been hit hard, not least economically, is Monde Sauvage, a popular multi-attraction destination in the Belgian Ardennes.
A small, family business, it boasts caves, open air zoo, safari park, adventure playground and restaurant and is one of the country’s most visited attractions.
But this year is turning into something of a nightmare for Joseph and Nicole Renton, the couple who have owned it since it opened some 40 years ago.
The two week Easter break would normally have generated about €600,000 in takings from 25,000 visitors but the attraction, as elsewhere, was forced to shut its doors to visitors.
The couple’s son Ronald is the park’s animal collection manager and he is ably supported by Niels Schouteden, the on-site veterinarian, biologist and scientific consultant, plus a team of park keepers.
Ronald says the latest lockdown is a body blow but one they remain confident of bouncing back from.
He told this website, “We are hoping that the review of the lockdown later this month will allow us to open in time for the run up to Christmas. That would be a huge relief after all we have been through these last few months.”
Normally, the owners would close the business for the season around mid November but this year they decided to keep everything open until the end of the year – that is, until the government decided to lock things down again in a bid to curb a huge rise in coronavirus cases that has seen Belgium attract unwanted headlines about being the world’s worst for talking the disease.
What is sure is that the many people who enjoy the attraction, so far this year, there have been over 90,000 through gates, will be delighted if they can pay a visit over the festive season.
Ronald adds, “Our losses this year are not insubstantial for a relatively small family business of this size but we are staying optimistic. We are prepared for this lockdown, unlike the first one, and at least we have stayed in business unlike, say, some zoos in the UK which have gone out of business since the start of the pandemic.”
Of course, the daily €15,000 costs of running the business, including staff salaries and feeding the animals, still have to be met, whether the various attractions are open or not.
The safari park, based at Aywaille, allows visitors to get up “close and personal” to animals while the adjacent zoo contains a rich variety of animals,including giraffes, tigers and elephants, while there are also animal shows throughout the day.
The nearby cave complex at Remouchamps is of prehistoric significance, with guided tour visits by boat 700 metres along an underground river (this is the longest underground boat ride in Europe). A visit here could be combined with a visit to the park.
It all makes for a great day out for the family. All the owners need now is the all clear from the Belgian government to reopen the doors again as soon as possible.