Source: OTA Insight
Big increase in flight and hotel searches
As 2022 went on, OTA Insight noticed a soaring interest in Belgium as a travel destination. That rise of interest in major Belgian destinations compares favourably to nearby touristic hotspots. From May to July, around one-and-a-half times as many searches were conducted for flights to Brussels than in January 2022. By September, search demand levels had doubled since the start of the year.
In comparison, this rise in interest was greater than the relative level for Paris and slightly below that of Amsterdam. It is clear that Brussels fits right in with the general return of interest and demand for Northwestern Europe.
Belgian cities perform even better when it comes to hotel searches made through Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and metasearch websites. Here, OTA Insight saw a strong peak period performance for Antwerp, Bruges and Brussels. They all follow a similar pattern throughout the year, indicating a broad-based recovery in travel within and to the country.
For the main vacation periods of July and August 2022, hotel search numbers in these cities were around 23 times the level seen at the beginning of the year, outperforming the growth in interest for Amsterdam and Paris. In terms of corporate travel, Brussels outperforms Amsterdam and Paris, with 3.8 times more GDS searches than at the start of 2022.
Hotel prices are following slowly but surely
The heightened interest is translating into a higher demand and a better pricing picture. However, the ensuing price growth took a bit longer for Belgian destinations than for their peers. During the 2022 peak period, prices in Antwerp, Bruges and Brussels consistently sat above pre-pandemic levels from June onwards. Amsterdam and Paris experienced earlier and larger room rate growth in comparison, but if you take the inflation into account, only Brussels is in truly positive pricing territory.
Statistics on overnight stays and hotel occupancy from the past months overall suggest that Belgium is rapidly approaching pre-pandemic tourism levels, which can then support better room rates. There is continued pricing optimism for Belgian cities, although this does begin to tail off towards the end of 2022.
Shifted hotel promotional strategies
The return of demand is also impacting promotional strategies within key destinations. As searches and leading demand indicators went up from May onwards, revenue managers’ rate strategies have been able to shift.
Consumers' renewed confidence in the travel industry has created a much stronger floor for hoteliers to work with, creating upward pressure on room rates and, at the same time, a downward trend in discounting and flexible offers.
Belgium’s tourism sector is looking positive as it recovers to pre-pandemic levels. The bounce back is now gradually weakening, however, due to the inflation and pressure on the consumer’s discretionary income. Nonetheless, this represents a far better outlook than what we have seen in the very recent past.
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