Flanders Heritage Venue shows off unique congress locations


VisitFlanders has launched a new network of historical locations that host international congresses and conventions, setting up the region as a European meeting hub with a difference

‘Fantastic growth market’

Flemish tourism minister Ben Weyts has announced the formation of a network of congress locations called Flanders Heritage Venues. An international campaign will follow to introduce the venues to conference organisers and to highlight the advantages of planning a convention or conference in the region.

Flanders is targeting the so-called Mice sector – Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions – which is carving out an ever-more important niche in the international tourism economy. Visitors attending large conferences or forums spent an average €230 per day, 56% more than a normal tourist. In addition, many people attending conventions bring along family members or stay a few days longer, making a holiday of it.

The region is now setting itself up as a congress centre of Europe, with unique historical locations as its calling card. There are currently six locations that are part of Flanders Heritage Venues, with 11 more on the way. Those 11 can count on a cash injection of €12 million to bring them up to world-class level as a congress location.

“You can organise a congress anywhere in the world,” said Weyts, “but in Flanders, you get an unparalleled historical backdrop in the bargain. Now we have a strong brand that we are going to promote through the world.”

Monasteries & botanical gardens

The cornerstone Flanders Heritage Venue location is Flanders Meeting & Convention Center Antwerp (FMCCA), which is located inside the Antwerp’s historical zoo, right next to Central Station. Following four years of renovations and additions to the Elisabethzaal – built in 1960 to replace the original late 19th-century building that was demolished – it opened in 2017. With space for as few as 10 and as many as 2,700 people, the FMCCA features high ceilings, marble staircases and Art Nouveau architecture.

The other six historical congress locations are the Botanic Gardens in Antwerp, a renovation of the Elzenveld Hotel and Congress Centre, which will open at the end of the year; Thor Central at the repurposed Waterschei mine in Genk; the open-air museum Bokrijk, also in Genk, former brewery De Hoorn in Leuven and the renovated cloister Het Predikheren in Mechelen, also set to open later this year.

According to Visit Flanders, 58 international congresses took place in the region last year. Weyts wants to see that increase to 300 by 2021. “Business people are generous sponsors of our economy,” he said. “This is a fantastic growth market that we absolutely want to tap into.”

VisitFlanders has a budget of €3 million for the campaign surrounding Flanders Heritage Venue. Other sites that will eventually be added to the network include the Thagaste Augustinian Monastery in Ghent, where monks still live and work, the Botanic Garden Meise and the Beurs in Brussels.

Photo: De Hoorn in Leuven is one of the six historical sites that make up Flanders Heritage Venue
©Courtesy Zakentoerismevlaamsbrabant.be