Mumbai: Visit Brussels, the official tourist agency of Brussels, held a networking evening in Mumbai recently. The event was attended by Peter Huyghebaert, Consul General, Kingdom of Belgium; Anousjka Schmidt, Foreign Markets Manager, Visit Brussels; Pieter Callebaut, Sales & Promotion, Business Developer Leisure, Visit Brussels; Joseph Fernandes, General Manager – India, Aviareps and Ellona Pereira, Account Director, Visit Brussels (Aviareps).

Brussels is a sought-after tourist destination which recorded 6.67 million overnight stays in 2017, up 21 per cent compared to 2016. Top source markets apart from Belgium which contributes 20 per cent of all visitor traffic are France, Spain, UK, Germany and USA. Closely following are Italy and Netherlands.

“We have been in this market for the last five years. After understanding India, its culture and specific travel interests, we decided we needed someone on the ground full-time to represent us. That is why we appointed Aviareps at the start of 2018. Now our trade partners in India have a local point of contact to help them sell Brussels to outbound travellers,” said Schmidt while talking to media.

“An event like this is important to educate the travel trade. We have 11 offices in Europe and abroad to work closely with travel trade partners,” Schmidt informed. “Our Christmas market is becoming very popular in India.”
The terror attacks in Brussels in March 2016 impacted tourism adversely but Indian travellers did not cancel like the rest. Tourist arrival numbers from India have remained rather steady over the years.

“The India market was very supportive as you are also a victim of terrorism and understand that one attack does not mean the whole country is unsafe,” she said. In 2017, India, ranked 25th as a source market, providing 53,000 overnight stays of which 46 per cent were leisure travellers and 54 per cent business. “We measure only overnight stays in Brussels.”

On January 7, Brussels Airlines will discontinue its direct flight from Brussels to Mumbai. Jet Airways stopped its direct flight and shut down the hub in Brussels after the terror attack. Indian travellers have relied greatly on GCC airlines to fly to Brussels post 2016.

Brussels has much to offer – over 80 museums; 2000-plus restaurants, bars and lounges and hosts about 18,000 cultural events a year. The city has 206 hotels offering 18,141 rooms. “We are a World Heritage City, so people who love history and heritage, art and culture, gastronomy, will like it very much. Visit Brussels is focusing on the upscale market to whom these experiences will appeal.”

Brussels and surrounding areas have 204 MICE venues. Twenty venues can take more than 1000 pax. The most sought-after venue is the iconic Atomium.

Thanks to its strategic location, Brussels Airport offers one of the most convenient stopovers for tourists to Europe or those travelling from North America to Asia and vice-versa. Many tourists land in Brussels and do a quick tour of the city and continue their onward journey to Amsterdam, Paris or Berlin.

Caption: Anousjka Schmidt (center), Pieter Callebaut and Ellona Pereira

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