In 2001 the relocation profession in Belgium was an unknown industry, with 2 major players, PRS and Map, and a multitude of small companies with fewer than 5 people on board. The service consisted of housing, utilities and schooling. Relocation in Belgium was mainly Destination Service Provider work, either directly for corporations or for the Relocation Management Companies. There was a lot of attention to the soft side of relocation, and not really to quality, profitability, long term thinking or new service development.
In 2001, the IT bubble shook up the internet companies, who reduced their Belgian investments considerably. Quite a few relocation agencies did not survive the shrinking expat market. As a consequence of the changes in the expat market the need for local joint activities was felt. A professional body was needed to gather relocation professionals and to share expertise, using EuRA as an example.
Also, the real estate association in Belgium, BIV/IPI, threatened to close all relocation companies who did not have a BIV/IPI number, i.e. who were not qualified to operate as a real estate broker. The reasoning of the court of justice, who backed up the BIV/IPI point of view, was that if you do part of the job (showing houses), you have to be certified as if you did a full realtor job.
RKS (Renate Stanton), PRS (Walter Vermeeren), Map (Johanna Tent) and am&pm (Anita Meyer) decided to join forces with the European Relocation Association to set up a Belgian relocation association. The purpose was to form a body that would establish contact and negotiate with the BIV/IPI. Thus ABRA was born.
Although there were no major hiccups, it took nearly three years to set up ABRA. Board members are all volunteers with full-time jobs and establishing ABRA took a lot of hard work and input. Competitors were afraid to share information, protective of their customer base, even unwilling to shake hands. The first meeting had fewer than 10 attendees.
Today ABRA is a mature association, financially sound, and inescapable for anyone working in the relocation arena. There is now an administrator to coordinate events, an ever-growing membership, the quarterly ReLocate magazine and a committed board that has grown to eleven members. From a small bunch of harsh competitors, ABRA has grown into a big group of friends. As an association ABRA has fought hard for professional recognition, and still does so today, but it has become much more well-known in Belgium over the last few years.
The association has grown in numbers, mostly in the affiliate categories, which proves that the relocation industry is seen as a very good way of reaching the increasing expat population. The subsequent growth of the membership funding has allowed the board to move towards more ambitious projects than was possible 16 years ago.
ABRA has become an important meeting point for everyone who is active in International mobility in Belgium. More and more well-known international and domestic organisations here and abroad want to team up with ABRA to continue improving the experience of internationally mobile people within Belgium. The entrepreneurship, networking and hard work of ABRA and all its members has led to the association receiving the (inter)national recognition it so richly deserves.