Which sounds more appealing? Eating a scrumptious Nutella smothered waffle topped with strawberries and whipped cream while staring at a 2-foot statue of a boy peeing or sitting in the Commission Building during a midday briefing?
As I would have chosen to overindulge in sugar infused Belgium waffles and assumed that the waffle shops are the no. 1 tourist attraction, I was wrong.
As Brussels can be considered the de facto capital of the European Union for housing the important decision-making institutions, the population reaches nearly 2 million, with the number of tourists exceeding the number of residents for more than a decade.
In 2011, Brussels received 3 million visitors representing approximately 6 million overnight stays, equating to an increase of 7.5 percent since 2010, according to the Directorate-General Statistics and Economic Information of Belgium.
“We definitely have lots of tourists coming to Brussels as the capital of Europe,” Caroline Vansteelandt, Management Assistant at City Sightseeing Brussels, said.
“We have lots of tourists getting off at the Parlamentarium, which is some kind of a museum that is only a year old and explains everything about the European institutions here. But what brings 80 percent of our tourists is the Atomium, which is still the biggest attraction in Brussels.”
Despite the numerous historical landmarks that makeup Brussels and the EU and already attract millions of tourists, a joint deceleration was signed between the European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani and President of the European Travel Commission Petra Hedorfer to boost the tourism in Europe.
In this period of economic and financial stress, more than ever, tourism should be recognized at its true level of importance. Tourism is a driving economic development that has great potential contribution to growth and is an important generator percentage of GDP and total employment in the EU, Vice President Antonio Tajani, said in a press release.
The tourism industry generates more than 5 percent of the EU GDP, with approximately 1.8 million businesses that employ around 5.2 percent, or about 9.7 million jobs, of the total labor force, according to Tourism: Keeping Europe the World’s Top Destination.
So why the need to promote tourism in an already predominant continent for vacations?
“As a destination, Europe’s share of international tourism arrivals has been falling for decades. In 2011 it was 51 percent, compared to 60 percent in 1990.” Eduardo Santander, Director of the European Travel Commission, said. “Its share of international tourism has also declined, from 49 percent to 44 percent since .”
Although initially signed last year at the European Tourism Forum, the official launch of the initiative to encourage tourism, “Destination Europe 2020,” took place November 6.
The ultimate goal of this 18-month programme is to maintain Europe as the world’s leading tourist destination through several campaigns and events, “designed to stimulate travel to Europe and strengthen its value proposition with tactical actions to engage consumers online,” according to Destination Europe 2020: Objectives.
Such predisposed tactics include: using social media targeted at consumers to create their dream vacation, holding overseas workshops to engage the wider industry in key target markets, creating an outreach video campaign to “raise awareness and generate buzz and interest” and creating a video travel diary in which video bloggers can have their next destination chosen for them through users’ votes, according to Destination Europe 2020: Objectives.
As a response to the constantly changing marketplace, the new initiative is expected to play a vital role in the prediction of international tourist arrivals to Europe reaching 717 million by 2020, with an annual growth rate of 3 percent a year, according to the World Tourism Organization: Europe Vision 2020.
If mouthwatering chocolate waffles, the Eiffel Tower and the Swiss Alps are not persuasive enough to visit Europe, then prepare to see Tweets, posts and blogs about the historically permeated continent known as Europe.