Find the fun in Brussels and French-speaking BelgiumBrussels and the French-speaking territories of Belgium have all the facilities for the efficient staging of any kind of event. And they also have the sense of fun that can add zest to any leisure programme
Olivier Daloze, Mar-keting Director of Belgian Tourist Office Brussels & Wallonia in Brussels, says that ‘Belgium is a small country and French-speaking Belgium and Brussels (Bruxelles!) make up just more than half of the country as a whole, but if you explore the region it is surprising what a variety of destinations are to be found.’
A structure of services exists to make this exploration simple for event organisers. There is an office in London that invites enquiries and can respond rapidly with a portfolio of attractive brochures covering venues and visitor attractions, incentive ideas and leisure programme suggestions.
These relate to the capital city, Brussels, and also to Belgium’s five French-speaking provinces of Namur, Liege, Walloon Brabant, Hainaut and Luxembourg. (Few people outside Belgium appreciate that in addition to the neighbouring country of Luxembourg, there is the Province of Luxembourg in Belgium.)
Another little-known fact on the demographics of Belgium is that in one area of the country German is an official language. There is a German-speaking population of about 60,000 Belgians – out of Belgium’s 10m – tucked away on the border with Germany. The London office is also officially responsible for providing information for MICE events that take place in that territory.
The UK is the prime target market for Philippe. ‘There are’, he says, ‘’important markets on our own borders, such as France, Germany and The Netherlands, but the UK is responsible for so many multi-national corporate events. Belgium is not only convenient for UK groups but also for delegates travelling from anywhere in the world to international conferences.’
He hardly needs to mention the new, more rapid Eurostar link from St Pancras and Ashford, Kent, and then there are flights into Brussels from all over Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia.
Olivier Daloze adds that visitors to the supranational organisations, such as the EU Commission, that have made Brussels their base are the bread and butter business for these air services, providing at the same time an endless choice of travel facilities for corporate events.
‘On the one hand’, Olivier readily admits, ‘these supranational bodies give Brussels a worldwide reputation as a meeting place with the highest quality facilities and a wide choice of hotel accommodation and meeting venues. But there is also a downside to this. First, the outside world too often thinks of Belgium as simply Brussels and nothing beyond that.
One indication of the role that fun and imagination play in the spirit of Belgium is the fact that this country is the world’s capital of strip cartoons. Belgium has given the world Tintin, Lucky Luke, the Smurfs and many others. There is a well-frequented Comic Strip Museum in Brussels that also serves as an unusual venue for events. Now, 2009 has been named ‘Comic Strip Year’ in Brussels and Wallonia and will see the opening of the new Hergé Museum, dedicated to the originator of Tin Tin. The country uniquely has Schools of Comic Strip, where students study the art of cartoons.
Any visitors to Belgium are also well aware within minutes of arrival – and constantly reminded whenever they walk down a street – that Belgium is the world’s chocolate centre. It is possible to visit six chocolateries in a 100-metre stretch and not find any two chocolates the same. Even the tiniest chocolate shops can do their own chocolate-making on site.
Brussels is the place for shopping, Art Nouveau and gastronomy.
Similarly, it is difficult to view a country as ‘boring’ when a single store can offer up to 400 types of beer, each from a different Belgian brewery. It is the only country, probably, where event organisers can offer their guests a choice of beer cocktails!
Special for 2009This year is special in Brussels and Wallonia for several reasons. It sees the opening of Square, the opening of the Magritte Museum and the celebration of ‘Comic Strip Year’
SquareIt was known as the Palais des Congrès until its closure for total design and refurbishment. At 20.09 hrs, 20/09/2009 it is scheduled to re-open as Square.
Within walking distance there are 3,840 rooms in 5-star hotels, 5,140 4-star, 3,900 3-star and 690 2-star rooms.
The facilities are extensive. It will have three auditoria for 1,200, 500 and 300 delegates respectively. Two conference rooms will seat up to 150, whilst 20 hi-tech rooms will accommodate from 10 to 100 delegates. A Modular Hall can provide 4,000 sqm of space for anything from dinners to receptions to exhibitions.
And at the top of the building a special events room is being constructed so that guests can enjoy panoramic views over the city.
René Magritte MuseumThe address is Rue Esseghem 135, Brussels. It is the house in which René Magritte and his wife Georgette rented an apartment from 1930 to 1954. Here he painted the majority of his now famous works and it was the meeting place for the adherents of the surrealist movement in art.
It is now being opened as the René Magritte Museum and organisers can make special arrangements for viewings or even receptions there.
The house itself is important in a study of the famous Belgian surrealist artist’s work, as many of his paintings relate to treatments of themes via simple aspects of his home.
For example, he painted his own sash window, but the visible outside scene was not a Brussels street but a country landscape. He depicted the fireplace, but with a train looming out of it.
Comic Strip Year
This could be an additional reason for choosing Brussels as the destination for an event in 2009, particularly a short incentive break.
Long recognised as the international home of comic strip art – and with its own Comic Strip Museum - the city will feature new giant murals honouring the famous artists, will offer city walks that take in points of interest relating to the comics and hold parades on comic strip themes.
This year also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art.
Event hosts would not have to look far for ideas for theme parties and gala dinners!
Help in the provinces
Belgium’s five French-speaking provinces of Namur, Liège, Walloon Brabant, Hainaut and Luxembourg have all got their own individual convention bureaux and specialist teams to help organisers identify the most suitable venues to meet their requirements and to identify a choice of partners with whom they might like to work for ground arrangements.
Philippe Marée in London can make the introduction to the relevant bureaux as necessary. Organisers can then work with whichever unit is most suitable and convenient.
The provinces are easily reached from the UK and any part of Europe, but are surprisingly little-known. This provides event organisers with the opportunity of taking delegates and award winners to very attractive destinations that are new to them but only a short flight or rapid Eurostar rail journey away.
The Brussels-Wallonia unit can provide a map showing the Wallonia region, the locations in relation to Brussels and the type of activities for which they are ideal in addition to conferences and meetings. The map shows, for example, team-building sites, sporting activity facilities, cultural items of interest and even gastronomic team-building, where groups can have great fun competing against each other in preparing local dishes and delicacies.
For further informationThe Convention Bureau for Brussels & Wallonia (the French-speaking areas) of the Belgian Tourist Office has a team based in London. The Trade Manager, Philippe Marée, can assist enquirers in arranging site inspections, identifying the most suitable venues and locations and in obtaining brochures and quotations.