After two years of walking in the dark, the meetings industry has felt a palpable drift in hotel strategy quite driven by the pandemic and hybrid phenomenon. Hotels are not just places where delegates go to rest and take break but also where they meet for breakout sessions and business meetings, on par with other destination venues. On the other hand, hotels are definitely ambassadors for cities and temporary shelter for thousands of visitors – if these cities are increasingly aware of resource management, their carbon footprint and their environmental role, so should they.
The Brussels Hotels Association (BHA) is the institutional voice of Brussels hoteliers, with 15,000 rooms in its portfolio and representing almost 85% of hotels in the capital city. After a period when government support measures and Covid surveillance systems were a common presence in the hotel community, it has now opened its (various) doors to welcome Ukrainian refugees in the face of the exodus from Eastern Europe. Plenty of reasons to talk to the general secretary, Rodolphe Van Weyenbergh, about these and more topics on the BHA’s agenda.
1) How have your members been picking up new activity and bookings at this stage? Do they see an upturn on the horizon?
After two difficult years, we are indeed seeing a steady increase in the number of overnight stays, although we are still far from the pre-crisis level. There has been an increase in leasure tourism, and business mobility is also gradually picking up. We are aware that the COVID narrative is not a closed issue, but we are by now familiar with a whole series of additional procedures to guarantee the safety of our guests. Moreover, we are facing new challenges such as inflation and the search for qualified personnel. In the future, it will be important to work with all parties involved to provide good training in order to continue to deliver an excellent service to our guests.
2) How are hotels becoming better places to work, meet and extend business event stays? How can the hotel industry come up with a new business model from this idea of “co-working space”?
Hotels are certainly also a meeting place; the hotel lobby or bar are good examples of this, as they are always accessible to everyone. Recently, there has been a tendency for hotels to focus more on common areas. In this way, the hotels also attract more local companies that make good use of conference rooms for their meetings or events, thus creating opportunities to meet in a different environment. Of course, hotels are also responding to changing trends such as online meetings. The meeting rooms are therefore increasingly equipped with the latest technologies.
3) A very curious aspect observed after the pandemic, has been the growing affirmation of new trends of hotel stays, such as “workcation” or “bleisure”. Have hotels in Brussels been identifying this profile and addressing their offers in this direction?
We are indeed observing a changing trend. It is certainly true that since the Coronavirus crisis there has been a greater focus on personal well-being, and this has consequently had an impact on business trips. This creates a potential for hotels, especially business hotels that are broadening their focus to the well-being of their guests, and we expect this trend to develop further. In any case, our capital city has a lot to offer to those who want to add a few days to their business stay.
4) I believe that never before has the hotel community felt so much pressure to move towards a sustainable path and balanced vision of its global business. How much has this been an “issue” with your board and its members?
It is true that sustainability has attracted more and more attention in recent years, but this is not new to us. The BHA and its member hotels have been working with the government for years to achieve sustainable labels. More and more hotels are being awarded a sustainable label like Green Key because they definitely meet the conditions. On the one hand, this is because the hotels themselves recognise the importance of sustainability and want to work towards it, but on the other hand, we also notice that more and more guests are sensitive to a sustainable approach.
5) The Brussels hotel community has made almost 200 rooms available free of charge for the reception of Ukrainian refugees, in an unprecedented act of solidarity. How did this initiative take shape among several of your representatives?
The hotels have been working together since the start of the refugee flow from Ukraine. They immediately came up with the proposal to jointly provide free rooms to guarantee emergency accommodation, and as BHA we took on a coordinating role in this, working together with Fedasil, Brussels Prevention and Safety, Red Cross, Citizens’ Platform and Brussel’Help. As a result, we were soon able to make hundreds of rooms available to the refugees. The Brussels hoteliers are also doing their utmost to ensure that people who fled their country in terrible circumstances can find a peaceful refuge. Answering you, this was a natural step to take within our CSR framework.
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