€30m ‘lifeline’ to support tourism hit by crisis

Summary

After devastating losses in 2020, Flanders is investing in the tourism sector as it prepares to attract domestic and international visitors in the post-corona world

Breathing space to restart

Flanders has promised €30 million to support the tourism sector as it moves in in 2021. The “lifeline” initiative is aimed at accommodation providers and tourist attractions who need extra support to start again after the pandemic.

The tourism ministry estimates the damage to tourism in Flanders caused by the crisis to be €17 billion. In some areas, businesses were able to alleviate the damage somewhat during the summer, but not enough to make up for losses during the first and then the second lockdown. Government support measures helped them survive, but many companies have had to use their reserves to pay running costs.

“The tourism sector needs to have enough financial breathing space to restart,” said tourism minister Zuhal Demir. “A recent survey showed that half of tourism businesses don’t have the financial reserves to survive another six months.”

Changed expectations

Visitors’ expectations have changed due to the corona crisis and businesses must invest to remain attractive to domestic and foreign tourists, through improvements such as ventilation, modifications to infrastructure or digitalisation. The new funding of €30 million is in addition to existing support measures.

“Tourism companies can submit applications for up to €200,000, which Flanders will advance,” said Demir. Businesses must repay 75% of the amount, but only after five years. “We expect a full recovery in tourism within five years. By letting our entrepreneurs pay back then, they can replenish their reserves in the meantime so they can stand on their own two feet again.”

We expect a full recovery in tourism within five years

- Zuhal Demir

Social tourism has also been hit hard in the past year, so companies active in social tourism and youth tourism that apply for funding only have to repay 60%. “For many Flemish people, the many organisations working within social tourism are their only form of relaxation during the year. I see it as my duty to help them through this crisis too. Because everyone deserves a holiday and corona will not change that.”

Meanwhile, the province of Antwerp is investing a further €300,000 in its own tourism recovery plan, which it launched in April.

“This has turned out to be a course with ups and downs,” said provincial councillor Jan De Haes. “Yet we also see bright spots. And with our autism-friendly holidays project, we are taking a new step towards barrier-free tourism.”

Photo: Museum M in Leuven, which bucked the trend and saw an increase in visitor numbers in 2020
© Kris Jacobs/Visit Flanders