In 2018, the medieval city of Bruges in Belgium, which is also known as the Venice of the North, welcomed 8,3 million visitors, up 28% from the previous year. Out of this number, some 6 million visited the city in one day alone. Like many other famous touristic cities in Europe, Bruges is a victim of its own success and wants to regulate this flow.
With a population of 117.000 inhabitants, Bruges is the third largest city in the Flanders region, after Antwerp and Ghent.
About 6.000 local people make a living from their trades but are not very happy with the amount of money spent by these massive crowds.
Although most of the cafés and restaurants are pretty full during the day especially in the summer season, in the evening, the city empties out of people and naturally, business also bears the consequences.
The new, recently-elected city council has decided to take drastic steps to not only avoid a daily overflow of visitors that may have negative effects on the local population, but also to encourage tourists to stay for longer periods and to spend more of their money.
This situation has also had a major impact on the charm of the city. Mini cruises on the canals are overbooked, shops have replaced the old medieval houses and large crowds make it difficult to walk with ease in pedestrian areas, in order to admire the architecture and other curiosities.
The city council is also worried that the attractiveness of Bruges will deteriorate with the years.
The first decision will be to put an immediate end to all advertisements aimed at attracting tourists to Bruges and to re-direct them to hotels located in Belgium’s other large cities such as Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels.
The intention is to invest in initiatives such as the organization of cultural events, to discourage day parking in the city centre, to encourage the holding of conventions and the construction of a huge conference centre.
A recent regulation allows café terraces on sidewalks and other open spaces to operate until the end of the Christmas holidays…anything that would bring more visitors willing to stay longer and of course, to spend more money. There are also plans to alleviate taxes on cruises.
After a meeting between the Mayor of Bruges and authorities from the port of Zeebrugge (Bruge’s harbour, located 12 miles from the city) it has been decided to reduce the number of cruise ships docking, from five to two.
In Italy, the city of Venice is facing the same problem. Pino Musolino, the director of the port has in fact, asked for advice from the authorities in Bruges. Dirk De Fauw, the mayor of Bruges said in an interview on Flemish TV : “We have to control the influx more if we don‘t want Bruges to become a complete Disneyland here”.
He also emphasized that he wants to aim at quality tourism, and not the huge crowds who arrive on bus tours and return to their cruise ships after a 3-hour visit.