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Flanders: where the world does business and associations love to meet

Blog post sponsored by VISITFLANDERS Convention Bureau

Beer, chocolate and waffles are probably the top three things that come to mind when you think of Belgium but did you know that Flanders, North Belgium, is also a key MICE destination?

Throughout Bruges, Ostend, Leuven, Mechelen, Limburg, Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels you will find strategic research centres, renowned universities, state-of- the art infrastructure, the latest technology and a highly skilled workforce. All this has helped Flanders to secure leading positions in key industries, making it is easy to see why over 2000 associations and trade

bodies have chosen this economic hub in Central Europe as the base for their headquarters.

Video courtesy of VISITFLANDERS

Knowledge hubs in Flanders centre around petrochemical, biotech, healthcare, port industries, logistics, petrochemistry, and energy. Event organisers are able to tap into a wealth of expertise on these topics. Also, it is difficult to spend time in Flanders and not immerse yourself in the art, history and culture. Therefore, the region naturally lends itself to a whole host of incentives and activities, from chocolate or beer tasting to art experiences, cycling tours, city games, scavenger hunts and more.

VISITFLANDERS Convention Bureau is responsible for the promotion

and development of Flanders & Brussels as a meeting and incentive destination. I caught up with Denise Jefferies, who is the UK based MICE representative for Meet in Flanders, to find out a bit more about what the region offers, particularly for association events.

Photo: courtesy of VISITFLANDERS

Why is Flanders such an attractive destination for association meetings and events?

Clients are often surprised how accessible and easy to get to Flanders is. It is quicker travelling to Flanders from London than commuting from London to Manchester. Clients always comment on how easy the Cities are to navigate around once they arrive. This is because Flanders has great Infrastructure. It has friendly people and offers great gastronomy. It is such a welcoming destination, which makes it an exceptionally appealing option for hosting congresses and conferences. Once clients experience Flanders they can see that it would make a great conference destination.

Many MICE destinations promote culture, gastronomy, location etc. but what sets Flanders apart from other destinations?

Flanders owes its strategic added value as a meeting and conference destination to its reputation and expertise in several key industries. These industries are highly developed, with specialised know-how at hand, in one or more Flemish cities and regions: for example, the petrochemical industry in Antwerp, biotechnology in Ghent, nanotechnology in Leuven, healthcare in Bruges, etc.

The biggest Flemish strong suit is the location of its conference centres: right in the middle of the historic city centres. It’s precisely this quintessential cultural heritage that creates Flanders’ appeal as a meeting and conference destination. It allows us to offer conference delegates a special meeting experience. We can offer a broad range of unique experiences and social activities, including gala dinners, teambuilding events and private tours, that are linked to our historical heritage (e.g. the Flemish Masters).

Photo: Courtesy of VISITFLANDERS

In short, Flanders offers leading expertise in key economic industries and a wealth of unique venues. You have the easily accessible Flanders Meeting and Convention Centre in Antwerp, which is great for large Congresses and is only a short walk from Antwerp central station. There is also 1898 The Post in Ghent, which used to be Ghent’s Old Post Office and has now been transformed into a stunning hotel. The Concertgebouw Brugge in Bruges is ideal for larger conferences The Dukes Palace Hotel, a former Home of the Burgundian aristocracy, is so full of history and is the only five-star hotel in Flanders. There are always new venues or hotels opening in Brussels, the capital of Flanders.

How can VISITFLANDERS support association event planners to host their events in Flanders?

Photo: Courtesy of Denise Jefferies (pictured right)

As VISITFLANDERS provides an unbiased complimentary information service, clients can contact me for any advice, requirements or costings. I am based in the UK so I understand the UK market. At VISITFLANDERS, we provide tailor-made proposals, help with bidding procedures and put conference organisers in contact with all the right suppliers on the market. Our Association Experts have the right knowledge of and contacts within the Flemish key industries. Together with our local partners we help meeting planners with their requests for proposal and organise site inspections to our destination. VISITFLANDERS also has a pro-active approach to showcasing Flanders with regular hosted networking events and hosted educational FAM trips. This enables clients to experience what this region has to offer and how easy it is to get too.

What plans or developments are there in the near future that will further enhance the attractiveness of Flanders as a meeting destination?

There are always new venues and exciting spaces being built in Flanders. In Bruges, there is a new Radisson being built, which will have meeting space and provide 109 bedrooms. This is due for completion in the Spring 2018 and will be located near the central station. There is also a new convention centre being built in Bruges with the capacity of nearly 600 delegates for a conference. This will be due to open in 2020. The main Convention Centre in Ghent, the ICC, will also be undergoing a refurbishment and this will be an attractive prospect for meeting planners. The full completion of this is expected in 2023, although meetings can still take place there in the meantime.

Discover Flanders along with me, in March, when I will be visiting the Associations World Congress in Antwerp. I will be sharing my experience of Flanders on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Why not share your own experience of meetings and events in Flanders using #MeetInFlanders?

For expert information about hosting an event in Flanders and to find contact details for Denise Jefferies, visit the Meet in Flanders website at