In Belgium, tourism is under the respective authority of three regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels. This section provides a national overview of the impact of tourism in the country, followed by detail of the respective governance and policy initiatives of the Flanders and Wallonia regions. Tourism directly contributes 2.3% of total GVA in Belgium, while employment in tourism sectors represents 6.7% of the total employment, according to the Tourism Satellite Account. Travel exports accounted for 7.2% of total service exports in 2018. In Flanders, the tourism sector accounted for 4.5% of GDP (EUR 11.7 billion), and 5.5% of employment. In 2017 in Wallonia, tourism made up 4.1% of GVA (EUR 3.6 billion) and supported 84 000 jobs, including 59 000 full-time equivalents, representing 7.5% of employment in the region.

In 2018, Belgium received 6.7 million international tourists (up 6.1% over 2017), who spent a total of 12.4 million nights (+6.8%). Of this figure, 3.2 million visited Flanders (47.2%), 2.7 million visited Brussels (40.6%) and 815 000 visited Wallonia (12.2%). Between 2017 and 2018, Brussels experienced the fastest growth in international arrivals (+8.5%), followed by Flanders (+5.1%), and Wallonia (+2.7%). The leading international markets for Belgium include the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, which together account for over half (52.7%) of total arrivals. Domestic tourism has also experienced growth in Belgium, with resident overnight visitors reaching a total of 4.8 million in 2018, up 6.9% over 2017. Of this, 60.1% visited Flanders, 23.5% Wallonia and 16.4% Brussels. In total, domestic tourists spent some 7.9 million nights in hotels and similar establishments.

In Flanders, tourism is the responsibility of the Flemish Minister for Justice and Enforcement, Environment and Spatial Development, Energy and Tourism. The Tourism Unit of the Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for international tourism policy and relations.

The Flemish tourist board, VisitFlanders, has the following objectives and functions:

  • Investing in the sustainable development and promotion of Flanders and Brussels.

  • Providing investment and support to make Flanders tourism more attractive.

  • Promoting Flanders as a tourist destination to attract more visitors.

  • Making sure that residents can enjoy and have a holiday, including people with disabilities or those with limited economic means.

  • Stimulating professionalism in the sector in order to guarantee visitors a quality offer and experience.

  • Recognising tourism accommodation providers.

Visit Flanders co-operates closely with the private sector, including Horeca Vlaanderen, Brussels Airport, Recread, CiB and Logeren Vlaanderen. This co-operation is facilitated by the Visit Flanders Advisory Committee, a legally-constituted body that advises the Minister and the CEO of Visit Flanders on tourism issues and policy.

In 2018, the overall budget for VisitFlanders was EUR 69.6 million. The provinces and the local authorities also invest in the domestic promotion of Flanders.

For the period 2019-2024, the policy of Flanders aims to strengthen the positive power of tourism so that the region can flourish as an innovative, inspiring and high quality destination for the benefit of its residents, entrepreneurs and visitors. To this end, Flanders has three major objectives:

  • Improving support to the tourism sector by policy makers and stakeholders.

  • Identifying and developing narratives to tell the Flanders-wide story to visitors.

  • Developing tourism that has sustainability and accessibility as core elements of the offer.

    Over the last two years, Visit Flanders and the Flanders Department of Foreign Affairs have begun a journey towards “Travel to Tomorrow”. Working together with various tourism partners and stakeholders, through this co-creative thinking process Flanders is undertaking an in-depth reflection on the wider transformative power of tourism, and the structure and processes that are needed to ensure that interactions between visitors, residents and places generate net benefit for all parties, going beyond economic growth (Box 1.6).

In Wallonia, tourism is the responsibility of the Minister for Public Service, Tourism, Heritage and Road Safety. Three bodies support the tourism sector:

  • The Walloon Tourism Administration (CGT) is responsible for implementing the Walloon Government’s tourism policy, improving the tourism offer, and organising and professionalising the sector.

  • Wallonia-Belgium Tourism (WBT) is the tourism marketing body for the Walloon region, which works to attract tourists from overseas, boosting image and reputation, undertaking marketing campaigns and developing product with key partners.

  • Wallonia Tourism Engineering Centre (CITW) is a joint economic and tourism research centre focused on tourism policy development and the co-ordination of research studies.

Engagement with the private sector is a priority for these bodies. Support measures provided include investment in facilities, assistance and financial support, the assessment of accommodation, visitor attractions and tourist guides, and the establishment of marketing partnerships to promote Wallonia. The 2019 budget allocated to tourism was EUR 58.8 million, not including funding for projects co-financed by the EU.

Tourism policy in Wallonia is focused around two main objectives:

  • Developing and building on the assets of the region: This includes measures to develop the tourism offer around the region’s natural areas, world heritage sites, gastronomy, and major events, as well as creating packages for specific segments and improving service in major visitor attractions with multi-lingual staff, greater accessibility and longer opening hours.

  • Upgrading skills and competences to improve efficiency: Priorities here include improving training in languages, quality of service and sustainable tourism, as well as the provision of financial support and innovation tools to the tourism sector.

The Walloon Tourism Administration has also prioritised measures including:

  • Development of an official database and digital projects in collaboration with tourism offices.

  • Improvement and updating of existing data. The Wallonia Tourism Observatory produces statistics and a Tourism Satellite Account. Current priorities include economic statistics on accommodation, museums and visitor attractions, and the analysis of rural tourism impacts.

  • Continued roll-out of the Wallonia Quality Destination label, which is a quality management tool that gathers tourism professionals from across the region in a process to continually improve the quality of services on offer for tourists.

  • Proactive land use planning according to tourism development requirements with the construction of three new resorts

  • Product development that meet the demands of the sector, including a Wallonia-by-Bike Cycling Strategy, with over 1 900 km of route now in place and 608 certified operators (see box).

  • Establishment of the Ulysse network lab dedicated to tourism training in schools.

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