“Belgium will intensify activities in India to promote tourism”

Interview with Didier Vanderhasselt, Ambassador of Belgium to India
/ New Delhi
“Belgium will intensify activities in India to promote tourism”

Didier Vanderhasselt, Ambassador of Belgium to India (Photo: India Outbound/Varsha Singh)

Though the Indian tourist traffic to Belgium is yet to recover to the pre-pandemic numbers, Belgium has enhanced its engagement with the travel trade partners in India, says Didier Vanderhasselt Ambassador of Belgium to India, in an interview with India Outbound. Vanderhasselt adds that besides culture, art and architecture, Belgian culinary diversity is also a key attraction.
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In 2022, the Belgian capital Brussels recorded 35,000 overnight stays by Indian travellers, with about 56 pc leisure and 44 pc business travellers. The traffic from India to the European nation last year remained a far cry from over 65,000 room nights recorded in Brussels in the pre-Covid era. And hence to revive the tourist traffic from a key source market like India and take it to the pre-pandemic levels and beyond, Belgium has lined up an aggressive outreach strategy in India, spearheaded by none other than its Ambassador in New Delhi.

In an interview with India Outbound, Didier Vanderhasselt, Ambassador of Belgium to India says that there are several novelities in Brussels and rest of Belgium, that are awaiting visitors from around the world, especially India. One of the key experiences for tourists is the Belgian Beer World that opened its doors on September 9 to welcome beer enthusiasts.

Housed within the iconic Brussels Stock Exchange building, it is a special place devoted to the discovery and appreciation of Belgium’s beloved brews, says the Ambassador, who highlighted other key activities and events on the calendar.

Focus on architecture and art

Vanderhasselt says that a key celebration lined up this year is 130 years of Art Nouveau, an architectural style. Victor Horta, a Belgian architect, was one of the leading proponents of Art Nouveau around the world and the festival in Brussels will showcase some of Horta’s most magnificent creations, says Vanderhasselt.

For instance,  in 1893, architect Victor Horta put the finishing touches to Tassel House, the founding work of the Art Nouveau movement in Brussels. Vanderhasselt says that this year’s programme includes a variety of initiatives in the Brussels Region with architectural masterpieces open to the public, workshops, lectures, publications, interior visits as well as guided tours.

Another architectural marvel in Brussels is Gare Maritime, a former freight station returns to much of its original architectural heritage, after having undergone major renovations. While adapting the massive interior space for events, retail and office space, once can also find shops, food market, park, urban gardening, guided tours, different expo’s and experiences, Brasserie de la Senne. The food court located here is one of the new food courts that have opened in Brussels recently like Wolf Food Court or Great Market

Another touristic attraction for Indian visitors, according to the Ambassador, is the Belgian Comic Museum. “The Belgian Comic Museum is an old department store that has been turned into Belgian Comic Museum dedicated to Belgian comics. The architecture of the building is just amazing. It in itself is a destination,” says Vanderhasselt.

The Ambassador also adds that many new hotels have opened up in Belgium. These include Juliana Hotel, The Hoxton and Mix Brussels that will welcome its first guests this year. In 2024, five-star luxury hotels like Astoria and Cardo Brussels are slated to open, he says.

For art lovers, too, Brussels has a lot to offer through its Museum of Fine Arts with a huge collection also of very old art. Then there is also the  Brussels Art Fair which is very famous in international art calendar. “Belgium boasts of one of the biggest collections of contemporary art, both private and public. There’s a very also quite new and nice important contemporary museum, which is the Wiels Museum. It’s an old brewery which has been turned into a contemporary art museum. It is very dynamic and very edgy,’’ he says.

“For families, Belgium boasts of a major theme park, Mini Europe which I learnt is the most visited attraction by Indians in Brussels. India is actually the second market for Mini Europe, after the French. So that’s a very popular item on the agenda for Indians,’’ he says.

Business hub of Europe

One of the key aspects of Indo-Belgian relations is the dynamic business relationship and the presence of several European and international institutions in Brussels, says Vanderhasselt. “We have become in 2022 the second biggest EU trade partner of India. The biggest is Germany and then we are the second. It has a lot to do with diamonds, but also with effect that we have 180 companies here present and of course, that we have the port of Antwerp which is the second biggest port in European Union and we have Brussels Airport which is again very important also for European Union,” Didier Vanderhasselt, Ambassador of Belgium to India, tells India Outbound in an interview.

“So, the fact that we have the European Union and other international institutions makes Brussels truly cosmopolitan. We are multicultural, and there is no foreign restaurant or foreign cuisine that you cannot try in Brussels. And we have of course, our cuisine which we are very proud of,” he adds.

In terms of connectivity, the ambassador says that though Brussels airport is well connected to other European airports, he is keen to establish direct connectivity with India.

“The airport is sizeable and very practical to use. We are working very hard at each mission, and in between the missions of course, with Indian airlines to establish a direct connection, so that will help a lot. We are working on that we hope that will come soon. We are pushing,’’ he adds.

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