The capital of Belgium and home to the European Parliament, Brussels is a bustling multicultural centre. It’s a great place to live as an expat, offering a huge range of employment opportunities, as well as international schools. In fact, nearly 40% of the population of Brussels is non-native. Unsurprisingly, most people speak English, which is very useful as you work on your Dutch and French!
The city includes a thriving centre, full of amazing restaurants and bars to sample some of famous Belgian beer. Away from the centre, the city offers quiet suburbs ideal for families. All of this is connected with an efficient public transport system which makes getting around easy.
But, as you’d expect, this can come at a cost. Brussels can be an expensive city to live in, especially when it comes to accommodation. Selecting the right municipality to live in can have a big impact on these costs though. For example, if cost isn’t an issue, then Etterbeek or Ixelles/Elsene would be a great choice. However, if you’re looking for something a little more cost effective, then Anderlecht might be worth a look.
If Brussels is the economic powerhouse, then Antwerp is the cultural heart. Focusing on fashion and cultural tourism, the city is the perfect home for creatives and those seeking a trendier home. This, of course, has attracted expats from around the world. In fact, over 180 nationalities call Antwerpen home, with sizable English and American communities in the city.
Of course, the fact that Antwerp is Europe’s second largest port, also contributes towards the city’s international flair and flavour. Home to Europe’s largest petrochemical cluster and hotspot for startups, Antwerp truly is an international hub of trade and innovation.
As you’d expect, this means you’ll find international schools, universities, expat communities and clubs in the city. The city has a younger feel, offering good employment opportunities for students, good public transport in the centre, biking infrastructure and much more affordable rent than Brussels.
On the cultural side, diamond capital of the world Antwerp is home to world class museums, including the stunning MAS, Chocolate Nation (for those with a sweet tooth) and the Museum Plantin-Moretus, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
As with the Capital, Antwerp has many residential areas, each with their own unique feel and prices to suit a range of budgets. You’ll find many of the residential areas to the north of the city centre. If you’re not sure where to start, we’d recommend the industrial Het Eilandje, or the or, if you fancy a livelier space, check out the trendy Het Zuid. A little further afield, but still within the Antwerp ring road, residential hotspots like Oud Berchem or Zuremborg are very much hip and happening.
If you’re looking for a distinctly Belgian city, then Ghent might just be perfect for you. Often said to be the most beautiful city in the country, Ghent is growing in popularity.
Central to the growth is the University of Ghent, which is helping the city to become a centre for research and development. Around 30% of the population are students, so their efforts are clearly working! This is also attracting businesses around the engineering and life-sciences industries.
The city itself is gorgeous, very pedestrian and bicycle friendly, which has been a key focus for the current city government. Despite the size of Ghent, you’ll find a welcoming, village feel to the city with small boutiques, great restaurants and a vibrant atmosphere. We’d recommend navigating the city on two wheels, as it’s the best way to see the canals and architecture. Though do look out for the tram rails! They can be a big surprise for the cyclist distracted by Ghent’s architecture!
Accommodation in the city can be expensive. With the city begin at the meeting point of the rivers Scheldt and Lys, many properties offer stunning rivers views, but that doesn’t help the rent! We’d recommend you take a look at homes in Muinparkwijk, Coupure or Visserij to get you started.
In addition to the large variety of public schools, Ghent has a successful international school, which includes a pre-school, elementary school and, as of September 2023, a secondary school.
Leuven / Louvain
If a deciding factor of moving to Belgium for you is the beer, then we’d recommend you consider the heart of Belgian Beer, Leuven. The city is the home of the biggest brewery in the world, AB InBev, the owner of Becks, Budweiser, Stella Artois, Leffe, and many more besides!
From craft beer festivals to international short film festival, Leuven is known for having a good time. Concerts, competitions, and sporting events add to the vibrant atmosphere of this historic destination. The city is also home to KU Leuven University, and an international school, making it ideal for expats with children.
You’ll also find that you can easily commute to the larger centres, like Brussels and Antwerpen, from Leuven. So, if you want the big city job, but a quieter homelife, this would be an ideal location to commute from.
More importantly, with the internationally renowned Institute of Microelectronics and Components (Imec) looking to attract an additional 1,950 staff by 2035, local opportunities abound too!
Liege / Luik
Situated on the river Meuse, Liege is gorgeous city, with parts of dating back to medieval times. The city is also close to the German and Dutch, with Luxembourg not too far away either. Liege is one of Belgium’s largest cities, and the biggest in the French speaking area.
But it’s not just the language inspired by France; you’ll also find that the cuisine in Liege has some strong French influence and creativity.
Nicknamed “the glowing city”, Liege has a vibrant nightlife, helped along by the world-class educational institutions within the city. The city also hosts annual music festivals, including the huge Les Ardentes multi-day event and Jazz à Liège.
You’ll find many expats centred in the apartments on streets including Rue due Jardin Botanique, Rue du Mont St-Martin, Piercot, and Boulevards Frere-Orban.
Wherever you choose to put down your roots, you can be sure Belgium will be a fantastic home for you. If you’d like to know more about the details of moving here, you can find out how to find a home from our recent update.
When you’re ready to take the next step, our ABRA members can help you find a new home and get the move done, no matter where you are in the world. Check out our members – including international schools – and start planning the next step in your life.
What does it cost to buy or rent in Belgium?
Belgium is surprisingly inexpensive place to have a home. In fact, Belgians spend an average of only 18% of their disposable income on accommodation though this is more like 30% for professionals moving to the larger cities.
It is especially cheap when compared to other parts of Europe. For example, rent is an average of 31% cheaper than in The Netherlands or, if you’re from further afield, about 35% cheaper than in the US.
This translates to a one-bedroom apartment coming in at an average monthly rent of €820 per month or €1,240 for a three-bedroom. Though this does jump to €1,100 and €2,000 respectively for Brussels, for example.
That said, price differences can vary hugely between cities, communities, and even neighbourhoods, so be sure to do your research before finalising your budget.
If buying is more your thing, the average Belgian apartment costs just over €3,500 per square metre in the city centre or €2,850 outside. And, before you ask, the average interest rate for a 20-year fixed rate mortgage is 3.27% at the time of writing. That makes owning your own place surprisingly achievable, even within the bigger cities.
Thanks to Numbeo, for the information. If you’d like to read the latest data (the above is from November 2023), you can check out their site here.
As with every country, there are nuances to renting or buying a home in Belgium. Let’s dive in and look at what you can expect, what you need and who can help.
Renting an apartment or house in Belgium
If you’re on a short-term contract or want to get to know the country before buying, then renting is a great way to find your feet. Around 28.7% of the population choose rental accommodation.
Most rental terms in Belgium are around three years, however, short-term options can readily be found in the larger cities. A common short-term choice is serviced apartments which often cater to the expat and contract work community specifically.
One reason for the number of people choosing rental properties over ownership is the level of legally protected rights renters get in Belgium. If you choose to rent, you will have greater freedom to redecorate or improve the property than many others in the EU. Additionally, rental agreements are designed to make it hard for the landlord to evict the tenant, giving a greater level of protection and security for renters.
Once you’ve found your dream place, you’ll need several documents to be eligible to rent, these include:
- A copy of your passport.
- Proof of earnings, such as a recent bank or savings statements.
- If you’re a non-EU/EEA resident, you will also need proof of employment or long-stay (category D) visa.
- It is not uncommon for some agencies or private landlords to request references too.
Moving on to the costs, it is typical for a tenant to pay two to three months rent as a security deposit, depending on whether you’re moving to Flanders, Brussels or Wallonia. Note that this must be made electronically, it’s not legal to complete this in cash.
All going well, an inventory report will need to be completed. This makes a record of the contents and condition of the property. This is often done by an external company and typically costs €300 and €400, which is usually split between the landlord and tenant.
Note that, in addition to your rental, you may also be responsible for additional costs including monthly service fees which can range from €50 to €100. This covers things like maintenance of elevators, the cleaning of common areas, and so on.
As well as being legally required to take out fire insurance, you’ll be responsible for your utilities; these are never paid for by the landlord. For an apartment these two should come to less than .
Buying an apartment or house in Belgium
If you’re ready to take the plunge and buy straight away, you’ll find it’s a great time to buy. Belgium is one of 16 countries in the EU where house prices have started to come down due to higher interest rates cooling the market.
Mortgages are widely available for those under the age of 65. One key requirement is that you will need to show that your mortgage repayments will not exceed 35% of your monthly income. The mortgage industry offers a range of products including fixed-rate, variable rate, and combined rate.
As with any property purchase, there are costs and taxes to pay before the place is yours. In Belgium, these are currently:
- Deposit of around 10%
- Registration tax for existing properties (note that rates vary between the different regions in Belgium)
- Federal VAT on properties newly built or less than two years old
- Notary’s fee (0.2-4%)
- Cost of deed of sale (€800–1,000)
The process for the actual purchase of the property is similar to other countries, the three main steps are:
- The commitment to buy (offre d’achat/ koopintenties): when completed, you are committed to buy but the seller can back out without penalty. There may also be a small holding fee to pay here, which you will lose if you back out of the purchase.
- The sale agreement (compromis de vente/ verkoopcompromis): This is the legal bit and gives the detail of the contract. This is where you will usually have to pay the deposit. From signing this document, you will have four months to pay the balance of the purchase.
- The notarized deed (acte notarié/ notariële akte): The final step and, when complete, the property moved to your ownership. The deed must be signed within four months of the sale agreement.
And, just like that, you’re a new homeowner, congratulations!
As with any complex legal process, there can be bumps and nuances on the way. We would always recommend that you take professional advice from a suitably qualified specialist in Belgium, speaking of which…
When you’re ready to make the move to Belgium, you’ll find all the support you need from our members, we’re ready to make sure your next move is an adventure every step of the way.
All of the respondents reported experiencing major changes to bookings and occupancy rates as soon as the first lockdown was announced. From tenants abruptly returning to their home countries to last-minute cancellations of newly expected arrivals, the industry was thrown into disarray from one day to the next. However, the sudden drop in new bookings was mostly balanced out by residents who found their assignments extended due to travel restrictions.
“Many of our residents left abruptly to return to their respective home countries when the first lockdown was announced. From having been fully booked, we were almost empty overnight. During that same period, we received requests from people stranded in Waterloo and in need of temporary housing as a result of hotels shutting down and/or not being able to secure a flight back home. Strangers became grateful guests.”
Marijke Gilmore, DVM Furnished Housing
“Together with the Antwerp Hotel Association we gave away 500 free nights to doctors, nurses and caregivers from hospitals in Antwerp when bookings went down. This way essential workers could stay closer to work when doing double shifts or rest during the day when working night shifts.”
Filip Goorden, Arass Hotel & Business Flats
“Lockdown was very strange, as everything ground to a halt from one day to the next. Thankfully, our property management and trustee services kept us busy. Once the borders opened up again things slowly went back to normal, but bookings can change at an instant depending on home countries’ latest COVID rules.”
Guillaume Dubucq, Skyline Renting
Unsurprisingly, health and safety came out as the number one concern. From ensuring social distancing can be maintained throughout the communal areas to daily disinfection and hygienic collection systems for linens, serviced accommodation providers have been careful to implement all WHO and government guidelines. Cancellation policies and flexibility of bookings were the second most popular demand with clients.
“Daily cleaning of all communal areas with efficient products, clear signposting regarding the importance of hand washing and maintaining a social distance, staff wearing protective gloves and masks whilst working, asking tenants to leave their apartments during cleaning if they can… All the measures we have implemented are designed to keep our guests safe and offer them peace of mind.”
Filip W, Belsquare Residence
“We have found that many customers use our apartments for quarantine purposes and working from home and shopping for food has been a concern. To assist we have been adapting our services and spaces to ensure they can comfortably work from home in safety. We have delivered food welcome packs to tenants who are unable to shop on arrival and our technicians have helped a number of tenants rearrange furnishings in their apartments to configure remote working office spaces.”
Stephany Cowley, BBF
“We created adapted policies related to cancellations and early departures in response to client concerns. We also offer solutions for guests in quarantine, so they can live with the necessary comfort without leaving their studio or apartment. Most importantly, we created a Safety Charter together with our local teams and suppliers that takes into account feedback from clients as well as government and WHO advice into consideration.”
Wendy Croes, Premier Suites Plus
Service as Usual?
It isn’t just tenants who are expected to work from home during the lockdown; accommodation providers too have to limit the number of workers on site. From having just one staff member and a single housekeeper on site per shift, to closing down breakfast bars and communal areas, on the whole, service does not continue as usual for our members during lockdown.
Instead, creative solutions such as breakfast bags and linen drop offs are popular ways of providing guests with as much comfort as possible. Feedback on such measures is positive as guests feel their safety concerns are being heard.
“We have chosen to limit our services as much as possible as guests’ main concern is staying safely within their bubble. As all our apartments are fully equipped with all necessary white goods, guests are fully self-sufficient. We ensure they have spare sets of bed linens and towels and provide ample sanitizing products. Service is not quite as usual, instead we adjust our rates accordingly, and we all prefer it this way. That said, the utility costs will increase for us as people spend more time at home.”
Marijke Gilmore, DVM Furnished Housing
“Although we have had to temporarily halt our cleaning services, our technical support remains assured at all times with the team handling all requests for technical support. In the commercial field, we work with virtual tours and 3D videos of our apartments and residences. The safest way during this pandemic to show our apartments to prospective tenants.”
Robbie Vercarre, RentMore
For the accommodation providers with shared amenities on offer, hygiene and booking systems take centre stage in the fight against COVID-19. Tenants are able to book hourly timeslots in gyms, which are disinfected after every use. Communal areas where guests can meet up have become significantly less popular since the start of the pandemic, even if guests do report missing human interaction. Thankfully spacious living rooms means guests are able to exercise in their apartments during times of restricted movement.
Expectations & Assignments
The fact that serviced apartments come fully equipped has proven to be a major draw for companies sending staff overseas. Uncertainty on the future of travel meant a lot companies waited to see what actions others were taking with regards to foreign assignments, but as the months rolled on, mobility picked up again as confidence in the sector grew. Being able to cook in your own kitchen, do your own laundry and work from home in a spacious environment with high speed internet means sheltering in place is comfortable and safe. Especially for guests coming from countries that require a quarantine, a serviced apartment is the perfect solution.
“In Antwerp the projects that started up again first, were mainly in the Port of Antwerp. People that travel for work stay longer, but also demand flexibility as their stay can change at once if rules change again. I do believe guests chose places where they feel safe and apartments that offer more space offer more comfort.”
Filip Goorden, Arass Hotel & Business Flats
“We noticed that expats who were at the end of their assignments had their assignments extended as their employers or embassies were unable to fly in their successors. Instead, they extended the work contracts for the people already in Belgium.”
Guillaume Dubucq, Skyline Renting
“Guests have become more approachable and are hugely understanding of any changes or restrictions to our services in line with government advice. Bookings are often made at the very last minute and others stay longer than initially expected. In general companies expect more flexibility in terms of operations and bookings or cancellations.”
Laura Temmerman, Residence Inn Ghent
Without a doubt, COVID has had an impact on the housing industry. Heightened health and safety protocols, a flexible approach to changes and last-minute bookings, virtual tours and more are changes that are likely to stay. Now more than ever, a frictionless experience has become a must, even if this does complicate matters from an operational point of view. The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainties for the economy and taking an agile approach has become the norm for organisations in all sectors.
As companies discover work from home as a viable option in times of need, the benefits of a serviced apartment over a hotel room become even more obvious. Apartments with an outdoor space such as a terrace or garden are seeing increased demand as tenants find themselves spending more time in their apartment than usual.
“Technology plays a big part in how the client wants the booking process to be. They either choose whether it is tech-led with, for example, instant bookings, live availability or a more consultative approach with human interaction. This time also offers an opportunity to develop the business and look at new areas of the business.”
Yolanda Blomjous, SITU
“We have seen this as an incredible opportunity to really study the expat and travelling professional’s needs and ensure that our services are flexible enough to meet the needs of the full lifecycle of their relocation requirements. For example, short stay apartments like Zilverhof Residence are a five minute drive from the international airport and available for weekly rentals, making them ideal for travellers needing to quarantine.”
Stephany Cowley, BBF
“Needs will always evolve, but we do not believe it will have a lasting impact on business. Brussels remains the European capital and international business people and Eurocrats will always have a home here.”
Robbie Vercarre, RentMore
Respondents are unanimous in their positive outlook on the future. Yes, things have changed and yes, these remain trying times for everyone but members are committed to meeting all governmental and customer demands to ensure guests enjoy a safe and pleasurable stay in Belgium.
“It has been a great opportunity to adapt and strive to improve the services for our customers. We have seen the market begin to change and we are working hard to ensure that we are ready to continue meeting these changes as we head into 2021 with our flexible offerings and apartments for each stage of business professionals’ relocation lifecycle.”
Stephany Cowley, BBF
“A lot will depend on politics and the measures different countries implement, as well as medical advances. COVID has definitely had an impact on how we experience social life and how we work, and it will take years to back to where we were in the past.”
Laura Temmerman, Residence Inn Ghent
“Every struggle, every challenge, creates new experiences that we should embrace and use in our future business. This pandemic is one of a kind and made history, but it will never change the fact that the Hospitality Industry is a People Industry. Our daily goal is to welcome our residents in a healthy, safe and warm environment so that they feel at home…”
Wendy Croes, Premier Suites Plus
“With travel being put on hold and postponed, this is a good time to review temporary housing policies and to look at suppliers in a different light. A more personal approach seems to be the way forward, after all, we are in this together and nobody knows what the future holds but there will be a new normal!”
Yolanda Blomjous, SITU
For a complete overview of ABRA members that provide serviced accommodation, please visit
The IPI/BIV contested this ruling at the Council of State (Raad van State/Conseil d’État) on November 12th but the case was rejected on November 14th (FR / NL). Please take careful note of the information shared below as we have heard reports of fines up to €2000 for those found in breach of regulations.
From a strictly legal point of view, physical visits for home searches and/or surveys are not authorized as we are currently under lockdown. In practice, some real estate agencies are still conducting visits (dependent on region) and others are only doing virtual visits. We understand that each case is different, but we strongly advise you to postpone house hunts until the matter has been resolved. The Colour Code Protocol published by the Flemish Ministry of Housing appears to be the safest (and clearest) guideline to follow until further notice.
Many industries – including home cleaning services, removal services and real estate services – have published guides to safely resuming business post-lockdown and the measures outlined here should be followed at all times. However, keep in mind that these guides were written with a loosening of restrictions in mind. Measures include maintaining a safe distance, hygiene precautions and minimising the number of people in a space at any given time.
Ministry of Housing (Flanders)
Colour Code Protocol (PDF)
Safety at Work
For your interest, the following is the IPI/BIV’s take on current governmental guidelines. This reasoning has, however, been rejected. Home viewings are not authorised under the current lockdown.
May I open my office?
Under Article 6(3) of the MB of 1-11-2020, companies offering services to consumers are closed to the public. Intermediaries and stewards have to work behind closed doors in their real estate offices. Teleworking is compulsory unless this is impossible due to the nature of the job.
Site visits and place descriptions are allowed, as there is no ban on non-essential movements. The sector advises restricting a place visit to a maximum of 2 visitors at a time, in addition to the real estate agent. Respect the sector guide at all times!
We have made an informative film for consumers about the course of the physical site visits. In it, we show that the real estate agent takes all precautions and protective measures to ensure that the site visit runs as smoothly and safely as possible.
Which measures do I need to take?
Can home visits, surveys, etc. take place?
Under Article 6(3) of the MB of 1-11-2020, companies offering services to consumers are closed to the public. Intermediaries and stewards have to work behind closed doors in their real estate offices.
Teleworking is compulsory unless this is impossible due to the nature of the job.
Site visits and place descriptions are allowed, as there is no ban on non-essential movements. The sector advises restricting a place visit to a maximum of 2 visitors at a time, in addition to the real estate agent. Respect the sector guide at all times!
In addition, the FPS Economy published the ‘guide to the opening of trade’. The content of this guide can be supplemented in accordance with the guidelines of the National Security Council. This guide also applies to free professional activities without physical contact, see p.7.
Please also note that the Flemish Government approved a protocol for the rental market based on colour codes. The application of the measures is made dependent on the stage of the coronavirus pandemic and is indicated by colour codes ranging from green, over yellow and orange to red. The Minister of Housing determines which colour code applies.
After all, you usually only fire off the occasional late night email or put the finishing touches to that report before turning off your laptop and settling in for the night. However, this new reality is expected to last anywhere from a few more weeks to eighteen months or more. This means we can expect to be working from home for quite some time to come, and even when the lockdown lifts, it may be reinstated at a future date. And so we thought some lessons from a professional freelancer might be welcome in helping you stay sane in the confines of your home.
Because working from home means lots of distractions, and anything that helps you focus is worth looking into. From the cat meandering into your Zoom meeting to the depressing stain on the wall you are facing, it’s not as easy to be productive as you might have expected. The things we can usually ignore are suddenly magnified as we spend all day confined in our own little bubble.
Time then to give our home office a bit of love. Yes, it matters which way your desk is facing and yes, it’s important to have a good desk chair. You can take my word for it. Desk work is back breaking and you’ll be hard pressed to find a chiropractor willing to take new clients right now. Spend some time online and find that perfect chair; your back and neck will thank you for it. Similarly, move your desk around the room until it feels right. Clear those piles of bills away and make it yours.
Order a pot of paint and a brush, and freshen up that wall. Get rid of the wobbly table that houses your printer and invest in something stylish. You’re going to be looking at it for eight hours a day for the foreseeable future. You might as well treat yourself. Don’t forget to order in fresh flowers to cheer up both yourself and your work space. It’s the small things that make a difference.
Ideally, a decent work space means somewhere you can close the door on. Not just from the kids or the dog for obvious reasons, but where your work is out of your field of vision. It’s ever so tempting to just finish that one small item off your to-do list as dinner is in the oven, but – speaking from experience – you’ll find yourself working late into the night. All this leads to is unrealistic expectations from international clients who suddenly find you are always available, heightened irritability, and of course sleeping in late because you’re exhausted from burning the midnight oil. It’s a slippery slope. Finding and sticking to a healthy rhythm is essential when working from home. Be strict, turn off that computer at the end of the day and don’t touch it again until tomorrow. Oh, and take the weekend off.
Apps like Slack, Trello and Asana can help remote teams stay on track, and are essential when you’re trying to manage projects from home. Holding the middle ground between a digital to-do list, a Whatsapp group and email, they go a long way towards keeping your mailbox free of clutter and help you pool information and resources within the team.
On a side note, please remain vigilant when it comes to strange emails, attachments and other unusual activity. Hackers are having a field day with so many people suddenly working from home computers. So update your software to the latest version, get a good password manager and consider investing in anti-virus software that packs a punch such as Malwarebytes. SafeonWeb also has some great tips to keep you safe online.
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Keep On Keeping On
With movement restricted to just the essentials, you’ll quickly find the walls are closing in on you. And although your dog may be enjoying the extra walks, they’re hardly adding productivity to your day. So, as well as your daily excursion round the block, find an online class you can really get into. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Yoga with Kassandra on YouTube. Her ten to fifteen minute stretch classes are a great way to start your morning, injecting energy and focus into your day. From guided morning meditations to hour-long Vinyasa flows for flexibility, she has something for everyone.
In the name of research I decided to check out overnight global phenomenon Joe Wick, also known as The Body Coach. I enjoyed every second of the 30-minute session, but can tell you my glutes and calves are in agony today. His cheerful delivery and personal shout-outs to the kids online are sure to put a smile on your face and give your day a much-needed boost. It’s not surprising his daily PE class has captured the imagination of parents and kids alike, with week 1 of ‘PE with Joe’ racking up views from 17 million households around the world. Thirty second bursts of HIIT-style exercises include everything from ‘bunny hops’ to ‘Spiderman lunges’ (shooting imaginary webs from your wrists) are live-streamed straight from his living room at 11am CET. So give it a whirl, I’ll be there again tomorrow, cat and dog tripping me up.
After Work Apero
Speaking of internet sensations, the video chat app HouseParty has seen a massive increase in downloads, with Vogue hailing it “the quarantine app you need to download immediately”. Just like with Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Google Hangouts, you can video call with friends, but unlike with these, people can just join in the ‘party’ without you needing to add them to the call. This can have surprising benefits, as well as some potential pitfalls.
We’ll leave it to you to decide how and with whom you prefer organising your virtual happy hour, but socialising is key to staying sane when it’s just you and your four walls. So be sure to take some time out to have some fun with family, friends and colleagues, even if it has to remain virtual for now. We’re looking forward to hosting the first virtual ABRA Apero on Friday April 17th from 6pm, an invite will follow separately.
Finally, tempting as it might be to open that bottle of vino and go into holiday modus sometime around midday, know that this too shall pass and we expect things will become busier than ever before when lockdowns around the world lift and borders are reopened. As EuRA’s CEO Tad Zurlinden said last week “Our industry is going to be at the forefront of rebuilding commerce and economies all over the world and we need to be ready to react fast and big when that day comes”.
Joël Vanmellaert, Managing Director of BBF, tells us: “Belgium, especially Brussels with its international institutions, has had a thriving market of apartments with services for years. This is mainly due to the attractive prices for longer periods and the convenience as well as the benefits of renting an apartment with services. Both for tenants and the persons responsible for housing their employees.
To date, however, there is no competent representation that represents the interests of the sector and can draw the lines in conjunction with the economic and local government. In Brussels last year, the minimum period for residential rentals was suddenly increased to 90 days. And this to the regret of a number of important companies that rented only for periods of 1 month from BBF.”
As a member of ASAP (the Association of Serviced Apartments Providers) we not only have a better view of what is going on in this international market, but we also convey more confidence and expertise. ”
The organisation is focused on guaranteeing confidence in booking a serviced apartment with consumers all over the world. Especially since this type of accommodation is relatively new and often unknown to the larger public.
Every year ASAP carries out a thorough inspection of the apartments with its members. The Quality Accreditation is the leading system for quality assessment, recognition and reporting for the industry. The ASAP quality mark is recognized worldwide as the leading accreditation in the industry. Relocation agencies and global travel buyers in particular see the importance of working with accredited suppliers.
The network meeting also aimed to propose a Belgian ASAP entity in relation to the recent changes to legislation in Brussels. And to ascertain to what extent other suppliers in Belgium regard this as an enrichment for the market.
“I am very excited about the new chapter of ASAP in Belgium.” James Foice, CEO of ASAP, said during the event. “We are grateful to BBF and the other Belgian members for the opportunity to expand, evolve and grow as an association. This European chapter for ASAP is very exciting and we can’t wait to see what else will come. “
James Foice continues: “The demand for apartments has risen worldwide in the last 12 months. With more and more people moving for their jobs, an apartment with services is a relatively cheaper option than traditional accommodation. The accreditation body has been an important promoter for our industry. We hope that this local chapter can also grow as a local representative of reliable and professional providers. With the support of BBF, our relationship with the European market is being strengthened, a topic that we will also address at the ASAP convention held every year in London during December. We also plan to secure further partnerships around the world over the next five years. BBF is a great team and a good partner on board. And we are proud to support this new opportunity for our industry. “
ReLocate spoke with professor Greg Clark, urbanist and Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute Europe, to find out more. He is a widely published author on city development and investment issues and advises a wide array of international organisations. In May 2016 he presented a new report analysing the competitiveness of Brussels and Antwerp. Where most analyses of a city’s competitiveness rely on economic performance, The Urban Land Institute report looks at a much wider range of issues. Ranging from liveability to geopolitical risk and sustainability, these are the things that influence a city’s attractiveness to residents and companies alike.
Brussels and Antwerp are very different in nature: how did you approach the comparison?
“We put together two benchmarking groups, ran workshops, visited the cities and conducted a ton of interviews before running this comparative analysis in which we measured Brussels and Antwerp against groups of peer cities to arrive at an assessment of their competitiveness,” explains Greg Clark. “We didn’t just look at economic performance, but at other issues that impact a city’s attractiveness to residents too. Matters such as liveability, governance, geopolitical risk and sustainability are just as important in urban life. Brussels was tested against well established capitals such as London and Paris, cities that provide tough competition. Antwerp on the other hand was held up against peer cities that are reinventing themselves – some of them port cities – like Hamburg and Amsterdam, and other (former) industry greats such as Manchester and Liverpool.”
Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.
What are their main selling points?
“Both cities have very good fundamentals, and their own, unique attractions. Antwerp is compelling for its extraordinary DNA. It has always been one of the world’s greatest trading cities and has invented many ideas about the connection between trade, innovation and discovery. Antwerp knows how to build a city around a port. Located within a north-western European economy of roughly 100 million people with a huge GDP, it’s well connected with Belgian, Dutch, Northern French and German cities on all sides. Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.”
“The Antwerp port is embracing innovation in terms of how goods are managed, how energy is used and what technology is applied. They’re building an innovative port and energy complex, with a big focus on the circular economy, which is important and fascinating. Of course, the city of Antwerp is synonymous with the craft and design of high-quality goods. From the diamond industry to its fashion sector, Antwerpians know how to make items of high value work in the market place. This mercantilist attitude means it is truly open for business.”
“Boasting a young and vibrant population that is committed to taking the city forward, Antwerp is further boosted by a government with big ambitions. From building a canopy over the ring road to creating more public spaces and developing the left bank, the city is redesigning its urban fabric to make a future-proof city. Smart citizen initiatives activate people to act as the eyes and ears of the city, giving feedback on the quality of bicycle lanes or roads and public facilities that might need maintenance. These distinctive edges of Antwerp amount to things that are quite exciting considering its small size. Thinking about the business opportunities that arise from disruption runs deep within the Antwerp DNA.”
Brussels’ youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity give rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries.
“Brussels on the other hand is distinctive in a completely different way,” Greg continues. “It is a major capital city, and as home to the various European institutions and NATO it has an influential presence on the global stage, although it is yet to leverage it to its full potential. It’s interesting when you compare Brussels with cities like Washington DC or Singapore, which play an influential role by hosting global institutions, international summits and other gatherings that really work for the city.”
“It has a youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity giving rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries. The high calibre of educational institutes in Brussels is somewhat obscured by the presence of international institutions such as the EU and NATO, but the educational cluster has enormous potential thanks to leadership in fields such as IT, life sciences, or medicine. Most obviously it has enormous potential to be a global school of government, public policy and management.”
“When you look at productivity progress in Brussels a lot of it is to do with the dynamism of the labour market and its liquidity. People want to spend time in Brussels, partly because of its influence, but then find they want to stay and do other things too. It’s important to remember that government institutions feed and support a huge cluster of other kinds of decision making and communication activities. There are very big, positive spill-overs and multipliers that you can leverage into other industries. If you thought a government town can only ever be a government town, you’d be wrong.”
All attractive qualities indeed, surely there must be some drawbacks?
“They also both suffer from a number of challenges,” agrees Greg. “Part of this is that they are located in Belgium, and, great as Belgium may be, it is not a country that enjoys a clear institutional framework. Both Brussels and Antwerp struggle to build their identity and present themselves in a way that cities in less confusing countries do not. Brussels has far greater assets than say Vienna or Zurich, yet these cities have fewer difficulties presenting and promoting themselves on an international stage. Similarly, whilst Antwerp has greater or equivalent assets to Liverpool, Lyon, Genoa, and Turin, it has difficulty articulating what it is, where it is, and why.”
“They’re also rather late to the urbanisation agenda compared to other European cities. Citizens in Brussels and Antwerp are highly dependent on their cars and prefer the suburbs to the city centre. The Belgians tend to sub optimise the use of land and real estate, which translates into low levels of densification and very few mixed-use development projects. It also means there has been very little focus on transport and connectivity as a way of embracing and spurring on urbanism. The third thing that seems to be true for both of them – although each city has a slightly different version of this – is that they have had some difficulty creating the right geographical and institutional space through which to apply leadership to the city.”
“Brussels Capital Region struggles due to the way it is defined; geographically it’s too small for the – much larger – Brussels metropolitan area and then of course there is the fragmentation of having 19 separate municipalities, which rather effectively prevents an integrated governance model. You need a leadership platform for the whole area, otherwise you end up with different policies being pursued in different parts of the region, which is not particularly helpful. For Antwerp it was more of a question of leadership appetite in the past, although I think this is now being addressed. The current leadership has the appetite to succeed and a vision for moving the city forward. It’s just been slow getting there.”
“The public sector almost has a monopoly on leadership control in Belgium. Other sectors, such as business, cultural and higher education, have not played active civic leadership roles like they do in other cities of comparable sizes. There’s been too much waiting around for city government to put things right, rather than civic leadership working hand in hand with city governments to create forward momentum. I suppose you could say both cities have become somewhat institutionalised. This is now being addressed in Antwerp where civil and trade movements are working together with the city towards creating a more sustainable future for the city.”
Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together with organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map.
How can Brussels and Antwerp improve on their competitiveness?
“We focused on three main areas for our recommendations on addressing these weaknesses,” Greg tells us. “First, Brussels and Antwerp need to start embracing urbanisation. This means being proactive in extending and developing public transport as a way of reducing car dependence. By strengthening the urban mix, you create excitement and vibrancy. Creating exciting city centres and sub centres, together with a more active transport mix, helps attract and retain corporate investment and the dynamic workforce needed by these companies.”
“Secondly, the institutional frameworks have to be right. This creates room for city leadership that is continuously thinking about their city as somewhere people will want to live and work, rather than getting stuck in Belgian politics. Thinking about public and private partnerships on a city level is a big part of this, just look at how Antwerp is involving its citizens in the maintenance of its city.”
“This in turn leads into our third point: the promotion of Brussels and Antwerp. Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together an alliance of organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map. This is certainly happening in Antwerp, and I believe efforts are underfoot in Brussels now too.”
“Finally, both cities have really creative industries which are part of the impact of the cosmopolitan diversity of the city. You should be able to really use that cosmopolitan diversity as a driver of creative endeavour. The idea isthat diversity creates competitive advantage through interaction. To realise that, you’ve got to address the challenges of social exclusion and segregation. Brussels has two cosmopolitan populations: one is the elite that services the global institutions, the other is the population of migrants who have come from a poorer set of countries in search of a better life. Somehow, you’ve got to make those two kinds of populations work together.”
To read the full report, visit the Urban Land Institute website:
“What makes you feel at home?” Iliv, the Belgian information platform on daily life at home, asked over 2000 respondents last year. Exactly half of these respondents feel it is imperative that the people they love live there too. And over thirty percent listed ‘my things’, ‘decoration’ and ‘crockery’. Almost a third felt a pet was an essential part of home life and over a quarter feels a garden or terrace and own furniture are important, just as connections with friends, family and furniture play a role in how at home we feel. In short: it’s both our favourite people and our favourite things that turn a house into a home.
“It is both our favourite people and our favourite things that turn a house into a home.”
That we like having our favourite people around seems obvious. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy living together. Creating a warm and stable home for your family is essential according to the Flemish child- and youth psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens. Last year he wrote a book entitled ‘Nesten’ in which he attempts to answer the question of what makes a family home. “It’s a work in progress,” he feels. “A house becomes a home when each family member feels free to be themselves, and where there is noticeable effort to form a unit. A nest really. And seeing as you can’t just buy one, nor create one from one day to the next, nesting equals some serious work,” he writes in his introduction.
Adriaenssens pleads for slow and steady creation, a critical view and including the children in the process of furnishing the home. “A house takes care of our physical needs, as it provides warmth, quiet and a safe haven. But nesting is only possible when you are free to turn your house into your own.” Inspiration, he says, can be found anywhere: in your own past and the house you grew up in, through talking to family members, from other families, or from magazines and books, but putting your own stamp on it is essential.
“Interior magazines shouldn’t dictate how you create your home. That the lamp by designer X works so well with the table of Y is a possibility, one of a thousand. But we wouldn’t wish a life in an interior upon any family with young children. We shouldn’t begrudge them life in a living, breathing environment; we should allow them to experience a real home.”
That we should want to keep our favourite things close by, as shown by the Iliv survey, makes sense according to Ruth Mugge. Ruth is an associate professor at the Industrial Design Faculty of the Technical University Delft and researches product attachment; the strength of the bond that we feel with a product. “An object that we feel an affinity to conjures up emotions. People can feel happy, proud or warm towards their favourite things. Or sad in regard to an heirloom. An object to which you are attached has a special meaning that brings about feelings of protection.”
“People can feel happy, proud or warm towards favourite objects.”
“These are also the things we take along when we move house.” Her research shows there are four main reasons for attaching to an object: because they give expression to your own identity, because they bind you to a group, because you enjoy them or because they remind you of something or someone. “Of these reasons, memories are the strongest binding factor, as they make an object irreplaceable. Logically this is the most important reason to keep them with you or to display them in your home.”
“Moving often means a change of identity, whether it’s becoming a resident of a new town or a new country. If you want to keep your old identity intact, then it’s important to give the objects that show your identity an important place in your home. But if you’re looking forward to a ‘new you’ then they will be less important,” And, Ruth Mugge admits: “Extreme expats, people who move regularly for professional reasons, have one of two strategies: either they are less likely to bond with objects than others would as they know it is only temporary. Or they will take a little bit of ‘home’ with them with each move.” A kind of survival kit that can easily be integrated into a property, essentially.
This product attachment may partially explain why we are seeing so many display cabinets in furniture catalogues these last few years, both in high-end and high-street design. The still life’s you can create here are literally that; they bring instant life to a home. Only recently British interior magazine Elle Decoration devoted no less than six pages to ‘the art of display’; smart ideas for modern-day still life’s in trendy colours.
“An absolute must for any home is a great sofa; somewhere you can retreat to and relax.”
“An absolute must for any home is a great sofa; somewhere you can retreat to and relax,” says Katja van Putten, project manager at Iliv. “It’s surprising how many people find this indispensable to feeling at home somewhere,” she stresses. And then of course there are the tricks of the trade that will make any house feel warm and welcoming.
In her book ‘Home is where the heart is’ interior design specialist Ilse Crawford highlights the most important ones. “There are certain basic things that make us feel safe – and have for centuries. They are irrational and independent of style: drawers and doors that close with a sturdy clunk (why else would car manufacturers add the noise digitally?); high back furniture; overscale tables, beds and lamps; things that resonate of home, and help us create a new and deeper sense of domestic comfort.”
She feels it makes sense that we should like vintage furniture, as it reminds us of childhoods spent at parents’ and grandparents’ homes, and she knows that our bodies much prefer rounded shapes. That we should love rocking chairs, sheepskin rugs, traditional textiles and cosy corners to sit in is logical, as is a warm environment with mood lighting and healthy, clean air. It’s hardly surprising to her that comfort and decoration have become important again in the world of interior design. “Patterns, wallpapers and artisanal items bring more intimacy, privacy, sensuality and beauty and offer a counterbalance to the more clinical designs. “Home,” she writes, “ is a mental state as well as a place.”
Five easy suggestions that will ensure you feel at home instantly:
• ensure you have somewhere to retreat to;
• make sure your house is warm, literally, but also through the use of warm colours, materials
and mood lighting;
• involve all housemates in the decorating and be flexible;
• put together a survival kit of your most precious items when moving house;
• have a display cabinet with favourite photographs, memories and meaningful objects.
Each region of Belgium has different rules about renting rooms under P2P arrangements, for example in Flanders, even private accommodation providers have to have an authorisation, which may only be granted after inspection, and the property has to meet much the same requirements as for domestic rentals e.g. smoke detectors. The Cabinet of the Premier of Brussels, responsible for Tourism, Rudi Vervoort, enforced on the spot checks in the Brussels region late last year to ensure that standards were being met. Further to this, Brussels region hosts are now also required to register with the Brussels Economy and Employment service. In Flanders business operators will be required to register online with the General Tourism Commission, CGT.
What knock-on effect do these new “tourist accommodation” regulations have for the short-stay market in Brussels? We spoke to Joël Vanmellaert, Managing Director of BBF Serviced Apartments to hear what impact these rules have on the industry and how it may affect the consumer.
First of all, the registration procedure is incredibly complicated. AirBnB have already complained that the regulations are too complex. At the beginning of the year an estimated 2,000 of the 7,000 people offering accommodation had registered their status with their municipality. The impact of this is that the supply will likely dwindle. When supply decreases, the only outcome is an increase in price of accommodation – not good for the consumer.
Secondly, when the “landlord” or owner is being asked to pay tax on their earnings, the one who suffers is of course the end-user, who sees an increase in price, despite the fact that a private let rarely offers the same level of quality that professionally managed accommodation does. And although the newly minted ‘summer agreement’ states that working persons can now earn up to €500 per month untaxed, someone with a nice room on offer can quickly surpass that amount, which means they will have to pay these taxes anyway.
Thirdly, and not at regional level but at local municipal level: there are also municipal taxes to be paid on furnished rentals. Any landlord renting out their property as furnished must register this with the municipality and pay tax accordingly. For example, in Sint Gilles the tax on a furnished accommodation is set at €200 per year. Of course, this is ultimately paid for by the tenant.
The regulations enforced that the beginning of the year will come under review after the initial implementation period, however how will the industry deal with the changes in the meantime? Will this see a welcome resurgence in hotel stays as opposed to internet P2P bookings? Only time will tell.
Going back to the roots of good old customer service
What has been lacking in the era of online reservations, self check-in and quite a number of AirBnB interactions, is a prominent level of face-to-face customer service. This is a key element of the hospitality industry and the power it wields is not to be ignored. It makes the difference between repeat customers, solid reputations and can be the deciding factor in tourist’s choices, as well as those guests providing a steady income for hoteliers: the frequent flyer. Thusly we are seeing a change in AirBnB’s approach with Experiences. Not only are AirBnB hosts able to let you experience their home town by letting out their house, apartment or room, they can literally play host to various experiences that will enrich your journey and ensure you engage with your surroundings such as a truffle hunt, an aquatic interaction or a solid favourite: wine tasting. In competition with this new functionality from AirBnB, hotels that distinguish themselves from the pack by delivering quality customer service every time and ensuring unique attention to detail will be the winners in the months to come.
Based on the concept of Capsule Hotels – which were originally developed in none other than the space poor Osaka, Japan – by stripping away unnecessary amenities hotels make best use of limited space. Providing the guest a place to sleep, wash and of course log on. Most pod hotels are wholly on the grid, offering in-room climate control, pre-check-in viewing preferences, breakfast ordering and most importantly mood lighting. These pod hotels have come a long way from the idea of sleeping in a fibreglass box and there are more and more pod hotels popping up in the most crowded of cities, offering this state of the art in-room technology to distract from the lack of space. Many pod hotels also offer fantastic communal areas such as cafés, vape bars and even hot tubs, encouraging guests to ditch the pod and interact. Most recently, the vision of “cross-pollinating” is starting to surface where non-pod hotels integrate pods on the ground floor. A further example of this type of cross-pollination follows…
Hotel meets Student Dormitory
Fusing luxury short-stay with student style accommodation and then topping it off with long stay options, these new hives of communal activity are popping up in every university city across the globe. Balancing out their high-end guests, who are usually a seasonal treat with the reliable source of funds, that long-stay student lodger ensures these hotels some staying power. Also boasting stunning communal spaces that encourage guests of all backgrounds to interact and exchange ideas, workspaces are a key part of the build and are not just limited to a desk, a chair and a WiFi code. These hybrid hotels encourage workshops, gatherings, lecture series or an area to just contemplate. For the “stay a while” guest there are communal kitchens, bicycles for hire, laundry rooms and a genuine feeling of home.
We’ve heard of Smart Cities, Smart Roads and even Smart Parking. It’s now time for Smart Hotels. When we talk about Smart Hotels images of George Jetson inspired gadgets and gizmos flash before us, the whole room powered by a tap on an iPad. That’s not what’s being referred to here. Smart hotels are more about the intelligent use of space and the ability to plug a guest into the local information grid, making best use of real time data and therefore providing the ultimate stay – not forgetting all this at an achievable price. In the US especially the rise of mobile working is opening up space once used for offices and now providing the hotel industry with the bare bones of urban chic hotels. Millennial business travellers are not after five star luxury like our bawdy ancestors were, they are looking for pared-back décor, an authentic experience and tend to shy away from over-the-top branding and superfluous logo usage.
As all online businesses are experiencing, those that can offer dynamic pricing (also known as time-based pricing) see increases in their profits and better utilisation of their product. Dynamic pricing is the real-time adjustment of rates based on supply and demand. Hotels conduct the majority of their business online and can take advantage in occupancy fluctuations, seasonal changes and employ dynamic pricing structures to offer competitive rates that meet the ever-changing demand. We have seen dynamic pricing work for other industries such as the parking industry (basically hotels for cars) with incredible success. This type of revenue management strategy can be uniquely precise, changing rates daily or hourly based on sophisticated technology and the trusty old internet. However, hoteliers-be take note: this kind of pricing strategy can alienate corporate guests by restricting negotiations on corporate rates as dynamically priced rooms can work out to be more expensive than the agreed corporate rates.
Add-ons and up-sells
It’s definitely the perks of a hotel that make it stand out from the rest, and refining the skill of providing guests with the extra option that will make their trip unforgettable will be one to watch for in 2017. Hotels will have to work harder in 2017 to ensure their establishment offers top-notch loyalty programmes, where guests don’t have to spend a fortune to earn one measly point. The fact that AirBnB has launched Trips is a clear indicator to hotels that they need to be playing host to their guests in the most generous manner. It’s not just about a bed and a shower anymore. It’s about providing a complete travel experience. Organising bespoke tours, workshops, local events and enabling guests to feel as though their host city is their city, all important factors in providing a total guest experience. Especially with online bookings, or hotels that use apps for reservations, the trick here is to ensure that the potential guest is not distracted by a rainbow of events and services prior to tapping in their credit card number. Patiently waiting until the reservation is made, the guest is more likely to add once the booking is secure as they can be distracted during the booking process. Add-ons such as a bottle of champagne or a breakfast buffet make the guest feel special and takes advantage of all a hotel can offer. Packages are also crucial to this trend, and hotels can be as creative as they like to entice guests: free airport pickups for those booking on weekdays, free concert tickets for guests booking for periods in advance, or free dinner vouchers at the hotel restaurant for a booking of three consecutive nights or less are great examples of creative incentives.
Servicing the Local Community
An interesting niche in the market that hotels don’t usually latch on to are the services they can provide for the local community. Hotels are usually viewed as places for out-of-towners, only for those visiting the area and gone within a few days. A trend to look out for is the mobilisation of services that a hotel can offer their next-door neighbours: this can be as simple as holding packages, or advising on the best places in town to eat, drink and be merry. There are a plethora of services that hotels can offer local residents and we anticipate that 2017 will see hotels becoming community hubs more than they have ever been before.
Travel agents are making a comeback!!
Yes, once the internet took over we turned our backs on the local travel agent and pieced our own journeys together, just as we wanted. However, we didn’t realise just how much hard work that would be. Online travel agents are making a comeback and showing us just how much expertise is involved in organising that “once in a lifetime trip” or making that tricky connecting flight work. The overwhelming options available nowadays are often too much for the not-so-well-seasoned traveller. Do we lose time or do we lose euros when deciding how our itinerary should look. The expert traveller who has been there and done that all before, is more likely to be looking for unique experiences that are sometimes out of layman’s reach. Let’s not forget also that it is quite often about who you know in the industry and travel agents can be a fantastic way to secure an exclusive price on a well researched and fuss free trip.
Whatever type of stay you’re after, there truly is something for everyone. Be sure to look up our outstanding accommodation providers by visiting: