Updated on July 12, 2022 by Axel Hernborg

Axel Hernborg

Belgium is a beautiful country packed full of sights. Belgium’s accessibility makes it a popular travel destination in Europe. With its coastline, artistic cities as well as gastronomy, this European country offers a wide variety of attractions and cultural activities for tourists. Bruges is a major attraction for tourists, with its perfectly-preserved medieval streets rimming tranquil canals that lure flocks of travellers each year. Besides Bruges, there are plenty of other towns in the country, particularly Ghent and Mechelen retain excellent architectural examples from the Middle Ages as well.

Here we will mention some top trends and statistics about the Belgian tourism industry for an in-depth understanding of its role in the Belgian economy.

Covid-19 and the Tourism Industry

The COVID-19 crisis has hit the Belgian tourism economy hard, with unprecedented effects on jobs and businesses. Tourism was one of the first sectors to be deeply impacted by the pandemic, as measures introduced to contain the virus led to a near-complete cessation of tourism activities in the country. The sector also risks being among one of the last to recover, with the ongoing travel restrictions and the global recession. This has consequences beyond the tourism economy, with the many other sectors that support, and are supported by, tourism also significantly impacted.

Pre- and Post-Pandemic Statistics and Trends

  • In 2019, the number of overnight tourist stays in Belgium peaked at approximately 42.5 million before Covid-19.
  • In 2020, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it declined to barely 20 million.
  • During Covid-19, in Belgium, the total contribution of travel and tourism to the Belgian GDP dropped by almost 45% between 2019 and 2020.
  • When looking at the forecast of the tourism sector GDP share in Belgium, figures were not projected to recover to their pre-crisis levels in 2021.
  • Tourism’s share of GDP is predicted to reach 2% that year down from 4% pre-pandemic.
  • In the space of one year, the total contribution of travel and tourism to employment in Belgium decreased by approximately 17,000 jobs.
  • In Belgium, domestic tourism plays a relevant role in the travel industry, since even outside of crisis periods, most tourist overnight stays were spent by domestic tourists.
  • In 2019, as in 2020, Belgian tourists were ahead of Dutch, French, and German travellers when it came to overnight stays in their home country.
  • In 2020, the main purpose of domestic travellers staying in accommodation in Belgium was for leisure and holiday.
  • Nearly five million domestic arrivals were recorded in Belgian accommodationestablishments in 2020 with hotels proving to be the most popular accommodation type for Belgian tourists travelling in their own country.

Contribution of Tourism to Belgium’s Economy

  • In Belgium, tourism is under the respective authority of three regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels.
  • 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 overhalf (52.7%) of total arrivals.
  • Domestic tourism has also experienced growth in Belgium, with residentovernight 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.

Tourism trends in 2022 and beyond

  • Bleisure travel is a growing tourism trend where people extend their business travel to leisure activities.
  • Digitization has led to a rise in online bookings and this made advertising cheaper for travel companies, and the customers are enjoying and increasingly prefer the convenience it offers.
  • Tour and activities companies have also progressively adopted technology and online booking.
  • Another important aspect of digitization is mobile bookings, operators report that 2 in 5 online bookings are made on mobile devices.
  • According to Think with Google,57% of travellers believe that companies should personalize their buying experience and base it on their behaviours, personal preferences, and past choices.
  • Travellers expect that travel and tour suggestions should be offered according to the data they are browsing on the internet. This would be possible using specialized marketing tools and ad platforms like Google and Facebook.
  • A recent Amadeus survey states that technology and innovation seem to be key in building traveller confidence and they will increase willingness to travel in the next 12 months.
  • More travellers are aware of sustainable tourism and adopting this mindset and making their travel decisions with the environment in mind.
  • Active Ecotourism is another trend that encourages combining the passion for travel with direct involvement in conservation and supporting the local environment.
  • Transformative Travel is a new tourism trend that is not just about travelling for leisure but also aiming to make a difference in both the lives of others and oneself such as through volunteering trips.
  • Experience tourism” is the trend of having a once-in-a-lifetime experience or gaining an emotional connection with cultures and nature.
  • A study revealed that 72% of millennials prefer spending more money on unique experiences rather than on material things.
  • Wellness Travel is a trend where travellers looking for an enriching experience with the primary purpose of achieving, promoting, or maintaining the best health and sense of well-being and balance in life.
  • According to Evolve’s 2022 travel forecasts,the average trip will likely be longer (5-7 nights in 2022, compared to an average of 3.8 nights in both 2020 and 2021).
  • Longer trips will be increasing in demand as a result of the many work-from-home opportunities too.
  • Staycation is another trend that represents a holiday spent in one’s home country or home rather than abroad and now Belgians prefer their own country to visit.
  • New research suggests that the trend will continue into 2022 despite the easing of international travel restrictions.

Other Tourist-related Trends and Facts

  • Brussels, the capital city of Belgium is one of the most popular places to visit in Belgium as it is one of the largest hubs of great museums, palaces, chapels and mansions.
  • One of the most stunning Belgium sightseeing spots in Bruges is a picturesque medieval town, gifted with historic buildings and canals.
  • Tourists would love to explore this quaint town on bicycles, enjoy boating in the canal or indulge in Belgian hot chocolate at any of the quaint cafes of the main market square. It is the best city to stay in Belgium.
  • Ghent is a favourite destination for art lovers and history buffs, but the quietude and charm of the place attract travellers of all kinds.
  • The surreal blend of history and laid-back vibes make Ghent one of the most unique places to visit in Belgium.
  • One of the world’s most important cities “New York” owes its creation to a Belgian man “Peter Minuit”.
  • French fries owe their creation to the Belgians and in Belgium, tourists can find probably the world’s best fresh fries.
  • Belgium is famous for its more than 2,000 chocolatiers in the country and Belgian chocolate is considered the best on the planet.
  • According to an estimate, 725,000 tons of chocolate are produced each year in Belgium means that Belgium is responsible for around 11% of the world’s chocolate production.
  • The Zaventem airport is the place where chocolate is being sold the most in the world.
  • On a trip to Belgium, visitors can find a lot of different types of Belgian waffles.
  • The most famous types of waffles are the Brussels Waffle (light and in the shape of a rectangular window) and the Liège Waffle (which is sweet and contains large sugar chunks).