Known as the capital of Europe, Belgium, and Brussels in particular, has a long-standing reputation as a destination for meetings and congresses. According to the Flanders-Brussels Convention Bureau, more than 50 per cent of overnight stays in Brussels come from business tourism or are at least related to the meetings industry.
Less well known, perhaps, are the fun and creative options for incentive groups, using themes including fashion, food and wellness, alongside historic and unusual venues for team-building events. Rita Andrews, events director at Bristol-based Research Media, has held several events in the country, including team-building activities in an old, disused hospital. "We've also held gala dinners in museums that showcase the creative side of Belgium and meetings in hotels and conference centres with cutting-edge technology,"
she says. "It's the only place in Europe where you can find staff speaking every language you could possibly wish for."
Belgium's countryside, particularly in the south, is also proving attractive - Kathleen Bertier, acting head of the bureau, says that destinations in rural Flanders have launched several local convention bureaux to support the growing number of enquiries for events.
Creative and diverse spaces
While some may perceive Belgium as a less exciting destination, Vicky Pratt, proposal manager at Universal World Events, says the only limit when planning an incentive or more unusual event, is imagination.
"We organise approximately 20 events each year in Belgium and, alongside Brussels, have proposed the less well-known areas of Bruges, Ghent and Wallonia for incentive events," she says. "You can choose from food-and-drink-based events in the capital, to a diamond-themed incentive in Antwerp or a trip to the Wallonia region."
For a gala dinner with a difference, Pratt recommends the nine-sphere Atomium in Brussels, whose panoramic restaurant at the top offers stunning views over the city.
Outside of Brussels, Antwerp has established itself as a centre of fashion - the annual Antwerp Academy of Fashion show attracts more than 6,000 visitors from around the world, and fashion is a popular incentive theme. Groups of up to 50 can learn about the history and etiquette of hats, try some models on for size with a local milliner, visit Huis Boon, the city's oldest glove store, and take a guided fashion walk with a tour of Antwerp's fashion institution, the Mode Museum.
According to Philippe Maree, trade manager at the Belgian Tourist Office, meeting planners often overlook southern Belgium, the Wallonia region. Yet as one of Europe's best-preserved natural areas, it offers a range of team-building and incentive activities. These include potholing, mountaineering and hang-gliding. For the less adventurous or those who want to relax, the southern region offers water cures and wellness centres where delegates can discover the benefits of thermal and sea water.
And meetings venues are also keen to show that they can do more than host an event. Libramont Exhibition and Congress Centre opened at the end of July in the heart of the Ardennes Forest and offers a mix of high-tech facilities for meetings and events across 17 meeting rooms, using a low-energy design. The venue also features an area dedicated for livestock fairs and shows.