- Tourism arrived in Brussels with the onset of modern transportation and communication means together with growth in both disposable income and leisure time of the working and middle classes. Before the 19th century, visitors were largely confined to traveling merchants, royal functionaries, diplomatic emissaries, itinerant artists (Erasmus, Albrecht Dürer), and expatriates. Travelers lodged largely in inns and in monasteries and convents.Large numbers of tourists began to arrive in the 1820s and 1830s, notably English visitors drawn to sites associated with the battle of Waterloo. Numbers rose consonant with growth in railway and steamship services. The many expositions and world's fairs in Brussels attracted fair goers as attendance figures climbed for succeeding events. Visitors increased dramatically in the post-World War II years. Transcontinental air service brought arrivals from outside Europe, the World's Fair of 1958 was a major draw, and the city's status as headquarters of the European Union and other international organizations has proved of benefit to the tourist industry as travelers on business in Brussels often combine sightseeing with work duties.High-rise hotels began to sprout in the 1960s and 1970s, notably the Hilton (1967) and the Sheraton (1973), many of them outlets of international chains that now competed with renowned establishments (Amigo, Métropole).A serious oversupply of hotels set in in the 1990s and the city placed a restriction on new building in 1993, with granting of permits contingent on location and size of proposals. As of January 2000, the metropolitan area counted 94 hotels comprising 4,414 rooms. Occupancy rates have been historically low with slack weekend demand since fully one-third of bookings consist of corporate clients. However, recent years have seen hotels attain levels comparable to major European markets.The 1990s witnessed strong growth in numbers of visitors with a slight decrease in 1998, when 1.2 million travelers were registered, and a rebound in 2000 when Brussels was named cultural capital of Europe and numerous musical and cultural events were held. International guests dominate (approximately 93.8 percent of arrivals in 1998) and, among these, visitors from elsewhere in Europe comprise the vast majority.The Grand' Place and its immediate vicinity remain the core area of the tourist trade in Brussels, a status that they have held since the inception of modern-day tourism. In addition, the quarter housing European Union institutions has now joined such well-established attractions as the Atomium, Mannekin-Pis, and the Royal district as tourist venues. The Belgacom balloon, called the "Aerophile," a stationary balloon launched in April 2003 at Espace Gaucheret in Schaerbeek has joined sightseeing by bus and horse-drawn carriage among the viewing options.Brussels International Tourism together with its convention department, Brussels International MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions), the latter formerly known as Brussels Congress, constitutes the nonprofit visitors' bureau supported by the Brussels Capital Region and the city of Brussels.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.