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Two weeks ago BBT Online informed you straight away of the decision of the Flanders-Brussels Convention Bureau and of Flemish Minister Geert Bourgeois, to cancel its future participation in the “Belgium Brand” at international trade fairs and fly solo as “Flanders”. For those who missed it, click here.
An avalanche of reactions – none positive!! - reached us, thank you all for your kind words and support.

However, we cannot leave it at that and therefore BBT Online asked for comments of the Presidents of the 4 foremost associations in our industry: ABITO, BHA, MPI and SITE.
This is what they had to say about the Flanders debacle.

Nick Kleingeld
MPI Belgium Chapter/President Elect

Fred De Deken
President BHA
Brussels Hotel Association


As you know, I am Dutch, born in Germany, brought up and educated in the UK and living in the French speaking part of Belgium since 1981. My children are quadrilingual Belgians and I am very proud to live in this wonderful country.

Here are my thoughts on the continuing segregation of Belgium:

Apartheid in the Belgian Meeting Industry

Belgium
is a country that was looking for its identity for a long time. Belgium is sometimes criticized for being too neutral. The Flemish people have little in common with the Dutch and the Walloon people have little in common with the French. The Flemish people have a great deal in common with the Walloon people; the Walloon people have a great deal in common with the Flemish people.

Belgians are intelligent, well educated, have a sense of humour, a great culture, a great food culture. Belgians are great researchers and great technicians, great traders and great designers, Belgians are great builders and great artists, Belgians have flair!
If Belgians have one weakness, it is, that they don’t make enough noise.

Click here to read more …

The Brussels Hotels Association (B.H.A.) is the hotel industry’s professional organisation, its members represent 12,000 jobs and 14,500 hotel rooms in the Brussels region and its economic hinterland. Hotels are part and parcel of the package on offer to international meetings attendees and therefore are important ‘players’ on the scene of promoting our destination worldwide
 
Most of the hotels represented in our capital spend sizeable budgets on promoting Belgium and Brussels.  They will not be pleased by this decision which in fact means the abolition of the umbrella brand ‘Belgium’ which they have been promoting through their own marketing & sales departments.
 
It is now time for our Government to enforce the regionalisation of the tourism industry as organised per the last State's reform to ensure Toerisme Vlaanderen focus on promoting Flanders, WBT on Wallonia and VisitBrussels on Brussels.
BUT this is an absolute necessity to achieve a smooth collaboration between the three organizations and to project a single image of our country under the Belgian banner on the international scene! 

Click here to read more …..
Dries Jacobus
President Site Belgium

Dirk Bracaval
President of ABITO


Like so many, we were shocked by hearing this news at IMEX.  It is indeed an evolution which has been going on for some time.  It is not irreversible, but we are afraid it is the set tone for the next decade or so.

So many visible and invisible efforts were done to build up the brands “Belgium” and “Brussels”.  Now that is getting known internationally, it is all being destroyed by politicians who are there for a 4-year term.  The strong position of the N-VA is definitely no coincidence in this matter.  It is well known what their position is towards the future of Belgium.
This situation even reminds me of the year when Brussels Airlines was created.  Walloon and Brussels governments stepped up and helped to finance the new airline.  Flanders didn’t.  Look how successful the airline is. 

Click here to read more …

Like everybody else in our industry I have to rely ‘no’ to your question if we have been consulted by the authorities before this decision was taken. I reiterate the sentiments expressed by my colleagues of the other associations: we simply do not understand how the Flanders-Brussels Convention Bureau can justify the decision to fly solo under the name Flanders at international trade fairs.

They are also professionals and must understand the totally surreal image of our little country hopelessly divided. Organizers outside Belgium – and let’s face it, that is where the majority of our clients come from – bring their business to a country or town.
We have 2 names that are known outside our borders and are the ‘Ambassadors’ for the destination: Belgium & Brussels.

Click here to read more …..

The Others

As mentioned before, we were inundated with reactions from the private sector, from people in decision making positions who represent a cross section of our industry, we did not want to withhold them from you; here is a selection:

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN! By Paul Van wijk
 
I am an “old timer” Brussels & Belgium general manager in two Brussels hotels in the recent past century.
And I am writing this message in English for BBT Online, a platform that has a wide appreciation from its readers in our business and beyond.

It has been a pleasure to work in Belgium, mainly because there is still so much to do in various disciplines of our business. Click here to read more.

Paul C. van Wijk │ Managing Director
Dolce Munich Unterschleissheim

Agree 100%: what a shame!
Even if others have a similar setup (i.e. London&Partners, Visit England and Visit Scotland have been exhibiting separately for ages) they have destination recognition! Not like Belgium..."
Christophe Verstraete – euromic
« La Frite, elle n’est pas Flamande, Wallonne, ou Bruxelloise, elle est 100% BELGE ! » On ne va pas commencer à casser la baraque (pardon ‘Frietkot’) maintenant que l’on est connu pour cela … tant en Belgique, qu’à l’étranger.
Thierry Scheers
Congratulations to you for your writings, but what a pity… This is, once again, total non sense. It seems to me like we return 25 years backwards.
I share this e-mail with my friends from the board of BHA. We could, may be, strengthen our positions together.
Serge Schultz - Member BHA
I couldn’t agree more. Imagine if we could channel all that effort and money in to promoting the brands people already know, spells success?
Jan K. Nielsen- Starwood
Area Manager Belgium & Scandinavia-General manager Brussels complex
This is really a bad joke...it has to stop one day.
Jacques Vitu – Past President BHA
Not really surprised, but still a bit… I could hardly believe that one can be so stupid.
I totally share the opinion expressed by BBT Online.
Marc Dans – BITS DMC
MPI followers, It is time to stand up to the politicians who are ruining our country!
Nick Kleingeld – Acting MPI President
Just read the article and Hugo's letter ... WAW ! Thank you BBT Online and thank you Hugo for having brought this to the attention of all those who are concerned. Great job and let's hope for the future of our industry!!!
Dominique Vermeirsch – Master Events
This unilateral decision means throwing away a long lasting work well done for many years to build together à positive, dynamic and efficient touristic and professional image of BELGIUM with partners from the private and public sector! It all started 15 years ago with a decision, from Flanders authorities, to split BELGIUM touristic representations abroad, bringing partnership to an end! That decision to end BELGIUM visibility as a country in Trade Fairs is the final step of this inevitable process!

Click here to read more.
Pierre Coenegrachts - WBT
Another Bourgeois Blooper : “Reisbureaudecreet” abolished.
In 2007 the minister absolutely insisted on installing the “Reisbureaudecreet” for the protection of the travelers in Flanders. Today, 5 years later, he is of the opinion that the travel world should regulate itself. No more official license required for anybody wanting to organize travel….Bourgeois’ own administration ‘evaluated’ the law and concluded that it was no longer necessary. All travel instances are outraged by this about face which puts many – mainly individual - travelers in danger. The insider story is that, yet again, it’s all political fun and games, to the point where the minister’s head was about to roll. Does this explain the 180° turn? Not totally, but then we should be used to the totally unfunded and irrational decisions of this minister where tourism is concerned. He saved his own head, what else is new? The only organization heaving a sigh of relief is BAPCO. Several members of this association where in trouble because they did not have a travel agency license and could therefore incur fines or worse. No official reaction from their side was available.