Going to unfamiliar places can be daunting. We spoke to a youth hostel manager, an explorer turned Airbnb host, a flight attendant and a tourism board manager to find out how they help you make the most of your trip.
Regional Manager for Central Europe, Tourism Office Visit Flanders
Sometimes the best way to appreciate your native country is to leave it. Having lived in Vienna for the last 23 years, that’s what Belgian Liesbet Vandebroek, 47, can attest to.
But as she became more assimilated into the Austrian culture – she speaks German like a native – she realized the differences were not so huge. “We both like to eat and drink good things and we both enjoy our Geselligkeit (sociability),” she pointed out over Skype, on one of her frequent business trips back home.
This sociability is also what Vandebroek enjoys about the tourism industry.
“Once you’re in tourism, you stay in tourism; it’s like a big family. You’re selling dreams, and you can get a lot of things done when you know people,” she explained. Easygoing and jovial, one can see how she fits right in.
Being in the tourism business also helps Vandebroek be a compassionate tourist herself. She’s not fussed, for example, by coming across outdated information in a brochure, as she understands the complexity of the process and the work that goes into creating one.
Attracting Austrian tourists to Flanders involves debunking misconceptions about Belgium, such as the idea that it’s more expensive (it’s actually cheaper for things like coffee and rent), that it’s only about politics and the EU (it’s rich in culture and history), or that most Belgians speak French (60 percent of Belgians speak Flemish, which is very close to Dutch and German).
One of the latest blows to Belgian tourism was the terrorist attacks at Brussels Airport last year, after which visitor numbers plunged about 40 percent Even though tourism is not as central to the economy in Belgium as in Austria, such a blow is always hard to absorb.
Still, it’s not only about quantity for Vandebroek and her colleagues. Too many tourists, especially for a jewellike city like Bruges, can actually be a problem.
“We don’t want to be a big destination like Venice or Amsterdam, where tourists are constantly flooding in in droves. We’re focusing more on quality tourists who can appreciate the finer things that Flanders has to offer,” she clarified.
And with that, she headed out to her hometown to do exactly that.
“When I was younger, I thought I wanted to live abroad, because Belgium is so little. But you grow to appreciate your own country and roots even more when you don’t live there.”