The Wallonia and Brussels regions of Belgium held a tourism roadshow in India from September 17-21, 2018, showcasing some of their renowned yet relatively unknown locations and attractions. This roadshow was a joint initiative of Wallonia Belgium Tourism and Visit Brussels, the official agencies promoting Southern Belgium as a valuable touristic destination for foreigners. It gathered eight tourism companies from Belgium with nine participants, comprising tour operators, tourism boards and local attractions. Their roadshow started in Mumbai, travelled to Bengaluru, Chennai and ended in New Delhi.
Peter Huyghebaert, Consulate General of the Kingdom of Belgium accompanied the roadshow for the Mumbai-leg with two seminars (one of them focused on educational tourism) and B2B-meetings with important tour operators based in Mumbai.
Talking exclusively to Travel New Digest, the Consulate General said, “Belgium and India have a long-standing and strong relationship, symbolised by an important bilateral trade, mutual investment and people-to-people relations. Our country was also one of the first to establish diplomatic relations with independent India. Last year, we celebrated 70 years of diplomatic relationships with the official State visit of Their Majesties the King and the Queen of the Belgians to Delhi and Mumbai. Yet, I would like to see more Belgians travelling to India and welcome more Indian tourists in my own country.”
Huyghebaert added that the tourism delegation from Brussels and Wallonia, the southern part of the country, came to several states in India to present a vast array of less-known visiting spots and activities to discover in our country. Brussels and some other Belgian cities are already well known among many Indians but we would like to make them discover so much more. Both Visit Brussels and Wallonia Belgium Tourism are currently working on the follow-up of this mission to promote their region with Indian tour operators. Flanders region for its part already has a local representative of Visit Flanders in New Delhi.
Brussels is quite well known to Indian travellers, as are the Flemish medieval cities like Bruges and Antwerp. But to promote other places in Belgium to the Indian travellers, Huyghebaert stated, “We wanted to present many other options to Indian travellers who might have already been to Belgium once but are unaware of those other gems that are hidden in the South of Belgium, such as Durbuy, the world-famous Formula-1 racing course of Spa-Francorchamps, the many castles, or one of the most beautiful caves of Europe (Caves of Han) with its adjacent wildlife zoo.”
Currently, India only ranks in the top 30. 47,000 Indians went to Belgium in 2017 and on an average Indians stay for about 2.5 nights in Belgium. Huyghebaert said that based on a much higher number of visa applications for the whole of central and south India, which is more than 34.5% for tourist visa compared to 2017, we are expecting a significant increase of Indian tourists to our country and also hope the recent tourism mission can give this an additional impetus.
Belgium is well known as a city-trip destination with excellent connectivity to the rest of Europe for tourists on sightseeing tours. Huyghebaert said that they want to go beyond the traditional hop-on-hop-off sightseeing tours and show to Indian travellers that you can also experience a lot of different activities in Belgium like music festivals, fortress, caves, outdoor activities, kayaking etc.
“Belgium already figures often in European group tours but we are intending to have new destinations within Belgium included in their packages,” stated Huyghebaert.
For MICE groups, Belgium is a perfect destination. In only a few days, a lot of different kind of activities can be organised, from cultural sightseeing to fabulous nature trips, and food indulging.
Independent travellers will also find what they are looking for in Belgium. They can travel safely at their own rhythm and discover the beauty of the country while combining city visits with outdoor activities, some exceptional shopping and culinary discoveries.
History lovers will feel at ease in the medieval towns, fortresses and castles of Belgium, and discover the numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In Southern Wallonia, nature lovers can experience loads of outdoor activities in the forest-clad hills like cycling, hiking, kayaking, etc. and finish off with a visit of the biggest European caves – Caves de Han.
As far as educational tourism is concerned, discover the “Euro Space Center” where one can experiment the life of an astronaut. It is an ideal excursion for families and schools.
Belgium is also known for its fashion and food. There is a lot more to discover than the famous beers, chocolate, waffles and fries. And the many music festivals all over the country, the most famous one being Tomorrowland.
Belgium is a perfect place for an Indian wedding with numerous fortresses and castles which can accommodate a wedding celebration in a beautiful historical location. The Radhasdesh Castle in the Ardennes is such a place that already caters to an Indian (and global) public, and has organised many typical Indian weddings, with full Indian veg and Jain food offering.
Many films are being shot in Belgium because of the large varieties of landscapes within a small area – green rolling hills, sandy beaches and dunes, medieval towns and quaint villages.
If you are working with a company that has an establishment in Belgium, there is a specific tax exemption system (Tax Shelter) for audio-visual productions.
One of the most famous Indian movies that has been partially shot in Belgium (more precisely in the medieval city of Bruges), is the Bollywood blockbuster “PK”.
Brussels Airlines is going to withdraw its connectivity from February 2019 onwards. Speaking on these lines, Huyghebaert said that everyone agrees on the need of maintaining a direct connection between India and Belgium. Talks are going on for the moment and hope we can quickly welcome a new airline company to restore the connection between India and the heart of Europe.
One of the advantages of Belgium is its central location, with easy flight connections from where one lands in Europe and high speed trains from London (2 hr), Paris (1 hr 20 min) and Amsterdam (1 hr 20 min).
Indians travelling to Belgium needs to obtain their short-term Schengen visa through the outsourcing partner VFS. The aforementioned visa is usually issued within two days of receiving the file from VFS.
Brussels and Wallonia
On one side Brussels offers you the international cosmopolitan city experience, and on the other side, Wallonia is known for its beautiful lush green landscapes and calm atmosphere. Just one drive from Brussels and one can enjoy a calm getaway in nature and get lost in the mists of time, magnificent castles, green hills and valleys, picturesque towns and a wealth of exciting outdoor activities for families and thrill-seekers.
The recently held roadshow was a resounding success with enthusiastic participation from the travel and tourism sector, press, tourism associations etc. It definitely drew new venues allowing Indian tourists to discover hidden gems of Wallonia and Brussels.
We will be working on our visibility, so more and more travellers are curious to explore Brussels and Wallonia. Creating customised packages according to the expectations and likes of Indian travellers and paying attention to even the minutest detail will be our main objective.
As an important part in our future promotional activities, we will be looking at participating in OTM.
Our initial market will be leisure travellers and FIT but gradually would like our destination to be included in group travels as well as it has things for couples, parents, kids and also senior citizens.
Emmanuelle Timmermans, Trade & Investment Commissioner, Wallonia.be
“We see India as a great potential since our offer is unique – a fusion of India and Belgium. We had a very positive feedback from tour operators and especially from wedding planners as they see Radhadesh as a very unique and attractive venue at the roadshow. We are also planning to offer a European Tour of selected ISKCON Temples and Selected European Cities to the ISKCON followers from all over India.”
Malati Dasi, Vice-President, Radhadesh
“The fact that we promoted a full range of accommodation and attractions opportunities in the region of Redu, Han-sur-Lesse and Durbuy have opened quite a big number of possibilities for Indian travel agencies and tour operators. Now, incoming agencies, local operators and tourists offices have to follow up with the answers to the expectations of a large number of delegates we met in Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Delhi. The final result of this mission and roadshow to India will be more visible on a larger scale in the summer of 2020 and later.”