The Brussels Holiday Fair 2022 has opened amid fresh optimism that the battered tourism sector is now ready for a restart from the huge impact of the health pandemic.
The 4 day event at Brussels Expo boasts 250 stalls representing countries around the world. It is expected to attract more than 50,000 people by the time it closes on Sunday.
A news conference to mark the opening heard that, due to staycations, Belgium has been a big winner of the pandemic, with an estimated 23 per cent rise in tourism and bookings over the past couple of years.
This happened, said Geert Raes, of ABTO – the Association of Belgian Travel Organisers – because people were heavily restricted in travel by the crisis.
He voiced “real optimism” that the sector could bounce back from the pandemic which, he said,had resulted in 27 bankruptcies in the country’s travel industry. In 2019 there were 1,155 travel companies in Belgium and now there are 1,062, an 8 per cent decline.
In 2019, 7,500 were employed in the sector here but now it is 5,500, a big drop of 30 percent.
An even worst impact had been avoided, he said, due to the “financial strength” of the sector and government aid.
Taiwan Stand at Holiday Fair
A survey, he said, showed current trends, with most people still wary of booking a holiday until the last minute, in case of a fresh outbreak or other crisis.
“It means, for example that someone wanting a holiday in September will not book until August.”
About 34 per cent are still concerned about this, he said but even so, 80 per cent of those surveyed said they intended to travel this year, which is about the same level as before the crisis.
The Ukraine crisis has not, as yet, impacted much on the sector of people’s travel plans, he noted.
Turning to travel trends, he told reporters that Europe was still the no one destination (81 pc) for travellers in Belgium with France (23 per cent) also coming out as the favourite again. This is followed by Africa, 7pc, Asia, 6pc, and the U.S, 3 pc.
Frederic Francois, CEO of event organiser FISA, said the sector has continued to be hit by rising fuel prices, inflation and the Ukraine crisis but is showing “real signs” of recovery.
The show itself features new destinations this year, including Maldives and the Dutch islands. It has 5 themes, including family and friends, camping and “slow travel.”
One of the biggest stalls, again, at the show (in Hall 1) is from Taiwan which, while it still has travel restrictions in place) is gearing up for reopening of its tourist sector.
Its stand, in the middle of the hall, features kids’ attractions and aims to showcase the best of the country, such as bubble tea, sweet cakes and even balloon artistry (it has a world champion in balloon art).
A sign of the importance it attaches to the show – and travel – is that its ambassador here personally visited the event on Friday.
Other features include the island of Menorca which was awarded the title of European Region of Gastronomy 2022 and Sanlucar de Barrameda, a town in the province of Cadiz which is Spanish Capital of Gastronomy 2022.