Britse touroperators te gast in de Westhoek

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Dear distinguished guests,

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

It is a real honour to be here tonight and to welcome you in the name of the Province of West-Flanders and Westtoer, the tourist authority of our province. I'm delighted that a good number of British tour operators are present on the first familiarisation trip since the Discovery Tour in January 2020. This means a lot to our region considering the crises!

1.  We missed you!

Since March 13 2020, the corona crisis has hit tourism and the touristic sector unusually hard. Hotels and tourist attractions that depend on international visitors and group tourism have suffered greatly. On top of this, our region Westhoek or better known as Flanders Fields also had to deal with the Brexit.

The tourism sector and especially rememberance tourism in Flanders Fields experienced difficult times due to the absence of the British tourists.  The recent new travel regulations, which foresee that vaccinated British tourists can travel to Belgium without testing or quarantine, brought positive news and new perspective. There are again hopeful signals from the tourism entrepreneurs and accommodation services.

The number of individual British visitors are slowly increasing again in hotels and museums in the region. The first British groups are returning. We welcomed the first British school group this week! We hope this is will be the beginning of the revival of rememberance tourism in Flanders Fields.

2.  We need you!

In 2019, 328 220 British tourists spent the night in commercial accommodation in our province West-Flanders. The majority of British guests stayed in Bruges (55%) and 27% of all British tourists stayed in Flanders Fields (de Westhoek). This is ¼ of the total of 930 000 overnight stays in the region (Westhoek).

These numbers show how important British tourists are for our region and for Bruges. They show, how grateful we are and should be because of your new interest in World War One heritage in the region.

During these difficult times, the tourism entrepreneurs, Westtoer and Visit Flanders followed-up the covid-restrictions very closely. They did everything they could to lobby for reduced restrictions in Brussels. Since September 2020, every month, the regional tourism partners of Flanders Fields and Bruges met online to share their worries en hopes related to the British tourist market.

Together, they made a clear infographic, which was adjusted several times, with the travel regulations during covid-19 for British tourists. They also continued to invest in their accommodation services and museums to ensure the best facilities and an optimal experience for future visitors. Today, they are more than ready to welcome you all back!

3.  We surprise you!

The Province of West-Flanders and Westtoer are fully aware of the importance of the historical WWI-heritage and we are involved in this commemorations since 2006. In close collaboration with the local communities, we contribute to make the relics of war more accessible to a wider public and thus increasing the public's basic knowledge about the events that gave rise to those relics.

After the centenary commemoration in 2014-2018 and the Feniks2020-project about reconstruction, there will be a new WWI theme year in 2023-2024 with a focus on the recovery of the landscape after the First World War.

Thanks to the financial support of Visit Flanders we can continue to invest in the strong and positive reputation of Flanders Fields and can rekindle rememberance tourism. With the new theme year in 2023-2024, Westtoer and Visit Flanders aim for a good tourism collaboraton with both public and private stakeholders in Flanders Fields, to ensure a strong international appearance of our region.

About 100 years ago, the transformation of the war landscape into a landscape of remembrance began. The careful location of the military cemeteries in the Flanders Fields landscape is no coincidence: they form, as it were, an imprint of the former front on the map of Europe. The warring parties and nationalities are forever anchored in the geography and landscape of Flanders Fields through the cemeteries and memorials.

The cemeteries, monuments and other landscape relics make the war tangible for the visitor and provide an unique experience. But there are also many places where the past is no longer visible such as the disappeared German military cemetries. We also want to tell the stories of those places of significance.

2023-2024 will mark another year in which there are again a lot of remembrance activities in our region. Their will be an extensive program full of fascinating exhibitions, experiencing places, events, walking and cycling routes that convey the testimonies of the landscape in an attractive and meaningful way. Currently the program is under development. The whole program will be presented in the autumn of this year. The start of this theme year will be on ANZAC Day, April 25 2023.

Dear ladies and gentlemen, I hope we can catch your attention and strong interest for this theme. Off course, this will be presented in combination with the permanent WWI heritage and museums such as the In Flanders Fields Museum, the Passchendaele Museum, the Museum of the Yper and several outdoor sites all over our region.

4.  Thank you

Finally, I want to thank the city of Ieper and Visit Flanders for their organisation and collaboration for this succesful event. I'm glad that Westtoer has supported this initiative and will continue the work to tell the stories and heritage of the first world war for many years to come!

Thank you for your kind attention.
 Britse touroperators te gast in de Westhoek  Britse touroperators te gast in de Westhoek  Britse touroperators te gast in de Westhoek  Britse touroperators te gast in de Westhoek