2020 action and recovery plan
2020 Action and Recovery Plan
The action plan initially planned by visit.brussels for 2020 was severely disrupted by the health circumstances linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To support the tourism, events and cultural sector through this unprecedented crisis, the organisation drew up a vast recovery plan, in co-creation with its partners and in harmony with the recommendations of the World Tourism Organisation. The budget released by the Brussels Government made it possible to set up a number of major projects such as the creation of a Health & Safety Label, the creation and management of five support funds for Brussels partners and events organisers in Brussels, support for venue booking and digitalisation and the design and deployment of a 360° image campaign. It also created a continuously updated webpage, to inform visitors of the applicable rules, negotiated discounted prices for the partners purchasing protective equipment, set up an online training platform (continued in 2021), created a newsletter informing partners of the latest trends and shared studies and examples of best practice, supported healthcare staff, created a work of street art as a tribute to healthcare professionals and distributed free Brussels Cards to staff in the Region’s hospitals.
Internally, the teams invested in digitising and redesigning the organisation to better meet its needs and those of the market. The new organisational structure that was put in place strengthens the cross-functionality of projects while bringing them closer to the partners and clients of Brussels tourism.
The Health & Safety Label
To enable the resumption of tourism and cultural activities, the Brussels-Capital Region and visit.brussels designed a health safety label. This label was developed, from April, with the international certification company SOCOTEC and officially launched on 5 July 2020. Its objective was to reassure and inform visitors about the quality and safety of Brussels’ infrastructure in a highly competitive international context.
The Brussels Health & Safety label is free of charge and aimed at all those involved in tourism and culture who wish to use it: attractions and museums, accommodation, guided tours, hotels, restaurants and cafés, events and fairs, etc. Its protocol was drawn up by the visit.brussels teams in close collaboration with federations and partners in the sector, and developed over months in accordance with the directives of the National Safety Council. It was then approved by SOCOTEC.
In order to obtain the Health & Safety Label, the operator must prove - via an application - that it complies with the prevention measures and rules established to ensure safe contact and protect public health. Once the application has been accepted, the applicant receives a certificate and the necessary material (visuals, poster, etc.) to be displayed on their facade or window. In addition to this on-site visibility, the label was promoted as part of a communication campaign orchestrated by visit.brussels. To ensure proper implementation, establishments bearing the label are subject to random audits, carried out by the certification company.
By the end of 2020, around one hundred Brussels tourism and cultural partners had been awarded the label. The project’s development is continuing in 2021, with new communication campaigns and the renewal of the annual label by partners.
Support funds for tourism, culture and events in Brussels
Faced with the complete cessation of tourism and cultural activities, visit.brussels, together with the Brussels-Capital Region, created and managed five support funds to help stakeholders in the sector equip themselves in terms of health, security or touchless services, strengthen their digital development, deal with the crisis in the events industry, etc.
These funds, with a total budget of €5 million, were designed in co-creation with visit.brussels’ partners and launched in June 2020. Applications and calls for projects were closed at the end of October. Operators could only submit one project per fund (except for the support fund for B2B conferences, meetings and events) but the different funds could be combined.
436 eligible applications were submitted and 426 were finalised, amounting to a total of €4,566,648.31.
1. Support fund for investments in health and safety related to the “Health & Safety Label
This fund was developed to help tourist, cultural and heritage attractions and event venues (museums, theatres, cultural centres, concert halls and cinemas, tourist buses, guided tours, leisure parks, venues, etc.) to acquire the Brussels Health & Safety Label. It supported initiatives to put in place hygiene equipment (masks, hand sanitiser, etc.) and social distancing measures (signs, walls, etc.), in order to welcome visitors under optimal health and safety conditions.
The total budget available was €500,000, with a maximum of €10,000 per operator. Out of 69 applications, 63 were found to be eligible, amounting to a total of €400,521.26. 51 applications were finalised by the end of December 2020.
2. Support fund for investments in “touchless” technology
This fund was aimed at Brussels’ tourist, cultural and heritage operators. It aimed to facilitate the reopening of the various attractions and cultural infrastructure by supporting the development of touchless services: online ticketing, traffic control systems, scanning, audio systems for guides, digital solutions to reduce health risks, etc.
The total budget available was €500,000, with a maximum of €10,000 per operator. Out of 143 applications submitted, 118 were found to be eligible, amounting to a total of €763,089.55. 84 applications were finalised by the end of December 2020.
3. Support fund for B2C & B2B events in Brussels
This fund aimed to help organisers of Brussels B2B and B2C events (festivals, indoor and outdoor events for the general public, conferences, symposiums, etc.) meet visitor health and safety expenses: protective and hygiene equipment, flow management, traffic and counting equipment, security or guarding costs, stewards, volunteers for the application of health measures, costs involved in implementing touchless ticketing solutions, etc.
The total budget available was 1€,500,000, with a maximum of €10,000 to €25,000 per operator, depending on the size of the audience concerned. 213 applications were submitted, of which 98 were found to be eligible for a total of €1,137,355.25. 66 applications were finalised by the end of December 2020.
4. Support fund for B2B conferences, meetings and events
This fund aimed to support the organisers of B2B events (at least 200 participants, 2 days and one night in Brussels) by granting them a subsidy to go towards payment for their event venue in 2020. The total budget available was €2,000,000 with a maximum of €50,000 per event (accounting for 50% of the maximum room rental). Following cancellations over the months, this fund was extended for events planned before the summer of 2021. 57 applications were submitted, of which 49 were eligible for a total of €1,241,344.43. 39 applications were finalised by the end of December 2020.
5. Support fund for investment in digital technologies
This fund aimed to support partners’ investment in sustainable digital technologies to meet new customer expectations, enhance their experience and maintain access to the cultural and tourist offer: digitalisation of communication, implementation of on-site digital experiences or acquisition of audiovisual equipment facilitating the organisation of hybrid events. The total budget available was €500,000, with a maximum of €30,000 per operator, accounting for 50% of the total investment amount and 100% of the total amount for the installation of the ‘visit.brussels touch’ cultural and tourist information screens.
113 applications were eligible, for a total amount of €1,024,337.82. 111 applications were finalised by the end of December 2020.
To support the destination and set it apart in a period of drastically reduced travel and therefore strong competition, visit.brussels deployed a vast 360° communication campaign, with a budget of €1,800,000.
This image and awareness campaign capitalised on the human element, the unique soul of the people of Brussels that drives the capital and distinguishes it from its competitors. It had to be as broad as possible, in order to attract B2C customers to Brussels and support tourist and cultural consumption. It also had to be promising for B2B targets, in order to encourage partner operators in tourism and culture to rethink their activities in the face of the crisis (with, for example, the development of ‘touchless’ and ‘corona-proof’ initiatives).
Launched on 15 June under the slogan ‘no Brussels without us’, it was initially aimed at the capital’s inhabitants. It was then deployed at the national level, as an invitation to Belgians to spend time in Brussels with a series of calls to action according to the tourism sectors (hotels and restaurants, culture, green spaces, nightlife, etc.). In a third phase, in July, it targeted visitors from neighbouring countries (France, the Netherlands, Germany, etc.), but this wave had to be interrupted in August due to the negative developments of the international health situation.
The investments and the course of the campaign had to be regularly reviewed in light of the crisis. The campaign was halted again during the second lockdown in mid-October, only to resume in early December with the reopening of museums and some cultural spaces.
In a 360° approach, ‘visit Brussels, visit us’ was rolled out across all types of media - posters, TV ads, social networks, partnerships with various media and influencers, press relations, etc. - with a major digital component that reached more than 20 million people.
Promotion of the Brussels Card
The Brussels Card 48h allows visitors to discover Brussels, with discounted rates for various cultural and tourist activities.
To attract visitors during the summer and encourage them to stay, visit.brussels set up an initiative to reduce the price of the Brussels Card (€20 euros instead of €36), from 1 July to 15 September 2020. The ‘Brussels Card 48h for €20’ promotion was launched with all the reseller partners, including visit.brussels, affiliated attractions and museums, and online tourism agencies, among others.
The campaign focused mainly on domestic visitors but also targeted Northern France and the Netherlands, when health measures allowed. It was advertised on posters (Brussels area) and social networks (Google and Facebook/Instagram) and in the national press.
A second initiative was implemented from 15 August 2020. In order to attract new bookings and encourage tourists to stay in Brussels, visit.brussels gave the Brussels Card to leisure visitors for all overnight bookings made directly with a hotel. This promotion was suspended during the second lockdown in October and re-launched when museums reopened in December, until 3 January 2021.
Continuing the recovery in 2021
Maintaining Brussels’ tourism and cultural offer is a priority and a challenge for 2021. In order to achieve this, visit.brussels has begun drafting its 2021 recovery plan, again in co-creation with its partners. More than 200 individual meetings were held in January 2021 with stakeholders, generating more than 100 concrete ideas. Faced with this global problem, particularly at European level, the 2021 recovery plan is in line with the European Tourism Manifesto.
Four scenarios were defined according to the possible health developments: from complete lockdown to international opening, with flexible initiatives according to these scenarios. As such, the organisation will continue to involve and support its partners through sectoral and multi-sectoral meetings, training and tools.
Brussels tourism continues to aim for 10 million overnight stays per year, a figure that would have been reached - or even surpassed - in 2020 if not for the pandemic. For visitors from neighbouring countries, visit.brussels hopes to return to 2019-level numbers in 2022. For distant countries, a return to normality isn’t envisaged before 2024 or 2025.