Europe is the most visited tourist region in the world (COM (2010) 0352) and, in addition to preserving natural, historical or cultural assets, the sector also ensures the development, innovation and diversification of various products and services. Blue tourism (including the cruise industry) is also the main driver of the European Blue Economy in terms of added value and employment (The EU Blue Economy Report 2020).
The Belgian coast is the most popular holiday destination in the country. In 2019, residential tourism accounted for 5,543,368 million arrivals and 27,723,420 million overnight stays. In 2020, however, both residential and day tourism experienced a steep decline due to the corona crisis and related leisure restrictions. In 2020, coastal tourism registered 4.0 million arrivals (-27.5% compared to 2019) and 23.2 million overnight stays (-16.3% compared to 2019). Whereas the number of day-trippers before the corona crisis varied between 16 and 19 million tourists, this had dropped to 10.0 million in 2020 (-42.2% compared to 2019) (Toerisme in cijfers XL 2017, Dauwe et al. 2019, Westtoer, Trendrapport Kust 2018-2019, Westtoer, Trendrapport Kust 2019-2020, Westtoer 2021). The spending of all coastal tourists amounted to nearly 3 billion euro in 2019 (Westtoer, Trendrapport Kust 2018-2019). The highest incomes were generated by second-stay tourism (1.308 billion euro), followed by those staying in commercial accommodation (804.7 million euro) and daytime tourism (793.4 million euro).
In addition to coastal tourism, tourism in the hinterland also provides an important number of arrivals and overnight stays. The tourist-recreational regions of Brugse Ommeland and Westhoek together accounted for nearly than 600,000 arrivals and 1.3 million overnight stays in 2019 (Westtoer, Trendrapport Brugse Ommeland 2018-2019, Westtoer, Trendrapport Westhoek 2018-2019). In 2020, however, these regions also noted a sharp decline in the number of overnight stays (601,600; -114.6% compared to 2019) and arrivals (239,800; -144.4% compared to 2019) (Westtoer, Trendrapport Brugse Ommeland 2019-2020, Westtoer, Trendrapport Westhoek 2019-2020).
The main motivation for a coastal visit is to relax (48%) and enjoy the healthy sea air (45%). In terms of activities, strolling on the dike (70%), visiting cafes, tea rooms, terraces (57%) and visiting restaurants (44%) are very popular (Vakantieganger in commerciële logies kust, 2017). Moreover, the Belgian coast is popular with water sports enthusiasts. Our coast exhibits no fewer than 12 yacht clubs and 26 water sport clubs, resulting in over 19,000 members.
More information on tourism and recreation in the Belgian coastal zone can be found on the website of the Compendium for Coast and Sea and the publication CoastalINsight 2019 (Dauwe et al. 2019) (Dutch).
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