Flanders wants to ‘take lead’ in debate on future of tourism


Tourism minister Ben Weyts spoke to participants of European Tourism Day this week, recognising that many tourist destinations are coming under intense pressure

‘Is this model sustainable?’

“Tourism and tourists make places change. They changes destinations and the people who live there – both for the better, but unfortunately, also for the worse.”

Flemish minister of tourism Ben Weyts has created a video message on recent changes in the tourism sector and on how the future of tourism could be managed. The video was played for the 400 people who gathered in the European Commission for European Tourism Day earlier this week. This year’s theme was The Future of European Tourism.

Weyts (pictured) started out by talking about how travellers habits have changed. “The way we travel, the way destinations are connected, the way we book has all changed,” he said. “And the way we want to experience destinations – we’re looking for more unique and immersive experiences within the local culture.”

That kind of tourism holds “great opportunities but also threats,” noted Weyts. “The main question is if this model is sustainable. How can we merge the best interests of local communities with the needs of this growing number of travellers?”

Give residents a voice

Flanders, he continued, “wants to take the lead in this debate by investigating the power of travel from both the tourist and local community point of view.”

Though tourism in Flanders has increased over the decades, hitting a record number of 26.6 million overnight stays in 2014, the region does not experience the kind of problems seen in places like Venice or Barcelona. But the proper management of a growing  number of tourists is crucial, according to Weyts.

“We believe in the power of giving residents a voice,” said Weyts. “We are open to sharing our experiences and hope others will join us creating benchmarking opportunities.”

Photo courtesy Ben Weyts/Facebook

Tourism in Flanders

The majority of tourists visit Flanders from neighbouring countries like the Netherlands, the UK, France and Germany. The main destinations are the coast and the Flemish art cities.
West Flanders - West Flanders is the number-one destination for tourism in Flanders, including for residents living in the region. Visitors are flocking to the province for several reasons: The long coastline, the historical city of Bruges and the First World War memorial sites.
Art cities - The most popular tourist cities in Flanders are known as the “art cities”, which include Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, Mechelen and Leuven. The most-visited city is Brussels, followed by Bruges. Other popular Flemish regions include the fruit-growing area of Haspengouw and the pastoral Maasland along the eastern border of Flanders.
World heritage - Flanders has five listings in Unesco's list of protected world heritage, including a series of 26 belfries and the entire historical city centre of Bruges.

percentage of local jobs in tourism


average amount spent per day by a tourist in euros

21 785 600

Number of tourists who visited Flanders in 2016