Restaurants, bars and other venues in the heart of this historic city are usually hopping on Thursday.
Not this week.
Patrick Bordigato, 27, a bartender at the restaurant Pin Pon, was standing idly at his counter. “I’m going to put on some music,” he said. “I should do it anyway,” even though there was no one else there to listen.
The music fills the room, where empty chairs and tables line the wall. Twenty customers were scheduled to arrive from France to host a company seminar over lunch. Another 18 had booked for dinner. All canceled.
“They said it was too difficult to get here,” Bordigato said. “If I had been in their position, I would probably have done the same thing.”
Since Tuesday’s bombings at the Brussels airport and metro station that killed at least 31 people and injured 270, this normally bustling capital of Belgium and headquarters of the European Union has come to a crawl amid stepped-up security measures. Officials have shuttered the airport, ordered searches of train travelers, reinforced border controls and deployed soldiers on the streets.
Outside Pin Pon, only a few people wandered the antique market in the Place du Jeu de Balles, a square in the Marolles neighborhood that’s normally swarming with tourists.
Last November, after the Islamic State attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, Belgian authorities put the entire city on a similar lockdown for several days because the attackers were linked to Brussels. Shops closed. People stayed home. The impact was disastrous for hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
“If there is one lesson we learned from November, it’s that we shouldn’t stay on lockdown for too long,” said Marc Van Muylders, president of the Fédération Horeca Bruxelles, which represents the interests of hotels and restaurants owners.
Events canceled in November were rescheduled for January and February, meaning the entertainment sector of Brussel’s economy has only just begun to recover from the Paris attacks. Now that Brussels itself was a target, hotels and restaurants don’t know how long it will take to recover.
“We’re afraid,” said Benoît Thewys, e-commerce manager for the Chelton Hotel near the offices of the European Commission, the EU’s executive agency.
In November, the Chelton Hotel’s occupation rate dropped from 90% to 50%. The hotel lost 35% of its revenues as businesses canceled conferences and tourists stayed away, Thewys said.
Many of the guests at Sébastien Botte’s bed and breakfast La Maison Haute in the city center are touring Europe and stop for a day in Brussels on their way to Paris, Bruges or Amsterdam.
“Usually, by January, I have already filled my rooms for April and May,” said Sébastien Botte, 42, owner of the bed and breakfast La Maison Haute in the city center. “Today, I’m still filling in for April and a little for May.”
Botte lost about half of his revenue in November and December. Now, new cancellations — mostly American, Chinese and Japanese guests — have been mounting since Tuesday. “There is an economic impact, for sure,” he said.
Noémie Rosette-Pein, 32, a waitress at Pin Pon, looked out the window at the quiet Place du Jeu de Balles. The few people who had been looking at the dealers’ wares were gone.
“Last night, we were planning for a party this evening,” she said. “At first, we thought, ‘Are we doing this or not?’ But this morning, we were like ‘Of course, we’ll do it. Without question.’”
She and her co-workers decided to go to work and prepare the restaurant for diners in case someone showed up.
“It feels like a game at which you’ve been forced to play. The events took place against our will,” said Rosette-Pein. “But life still needs to be celebrated. Otherwise, it’s the beginning of the end. ”
SOURCE: Delphine Reuter