The industry has changed considerably


The 2018/19 edition of the Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report has recently been published. For every GSAIR an in-depth survey of corporate travel managers, agents and serviced apartment operators is undertaken. This yearly survey with facts and figures concerning the global serviced apartments industry was carried out amongst 6,000 corporates, 2,000 serviced apartment operators and 1,800 agents. The rate of growth in serviced apartment usage for business travel, assignment and relocation purposes have maintained their upward trajectory. Over half of corporates now use serviced apartments for business travel, with 39.7% of corporates allocating up to 20% of budget to extended stay. According to HVS, over 10,000 serviced apartments will be built in Europe between the middle of 2017 and 2020.

Read GSAIR 2018-19 here

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Brussels Tackles Illegal Airbnb’s

Brussels Takes Steps to Protect Affordable Housing by Tackling Illegal Airbnb's

Central Brussels has a high concentration of Airbnb listings, with more than 90% estimated to not conform with the legal requirements. To combat scarcity in the Brussels housing market, the so-called “Airbnb ordinance” sets out stricter rules on renting tourist accommodation via online platforms.

After much controversy and legal battles with Airbnb, the Territorial Development Commission approved a draft ordinance to better protect the Brussels rental market. The ordinance was accepted by Brussels Parliament at the end of January.

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1. The Impact of Airbnb on Housing Markets

Airbnb, as a platform for short-term accommodations, has emerged as a way for landlords to promote their properties to short-term renters. While it expands the rental housing market, it also affects long-term rentals, including affordable housing in several ways. The “Airbnb Effect” is not limited to specific regions; it’s a global phenomenon. In the United Kingdom and other countries, Airbnb’s growth has contributed to housing shortages and increased prices. In November 2023, an entire building of illegal Airbnb flats was sealed in the city centre of Brussels. These practices were deemed detrimental to the regular rental market and miles away from Airbnb’s original idea.

The presence of Airbnb units in a community has led to a decrease in long-term rental supply including affordable housing. This reduction harms local renters who rely on stable, long-term housing options. While Airbnb offers economic benefits, the costs to tenants and local jurisdictions likely exceed the benefits to travelers and property owners. Short-term rentals also disproportionately benefit high-wealth individuals.

2. Stricter Rules for Airbnb Operators in Brussels

Brussels City has the highest density of short-stay accommodation units offered on online rental platforms in the region. The new ordinance aims to combat illegal tourist accommodation while striving for a healthy social mix, especially in the city centre. This balance is only possible if residential functions are protected, and renting remains affordable for Brussels residents. By striking this balance, Brussels aims to ensure that its residents can find affordable housing while still accommodating tourists through responsible platforms. 

Central to the new ordinance are updated rules for those registering to use Airbnb or a similar platform with the regional public service Brussels Economy and Employment (BEW/BEE). To obtain necessary approval, operators must meet updated criteria for:

  1. Urban Planning: Ensuring compliance with urban planning regulations.
  2. Safety Standards: Including fire protection measures.
  3. Accounting: Proper financial reporting.

The new ordinance is a revision of legislation that came into effect in 2016 but remained largely unenforced due to an unworkable registration procedure. Currently, an estimated 90% of tourist accommodations offered are in a legal grey zone because obtaining an urban conformity certificate (the *permis d’urbanisme*) has been challenging, partly due to different interpretations of requirements by the region’s 19 municipalities.

3. Following other major cities

Other cities worldwide have also implemented stricter regulations on Airbnb. For instance:

  • New York City: In September 2023, New York City began enforcing “a de facto ban on short-term rentals.” The rules require hosts to register their listings with the city, limit rentals to one property per host, and prohibit rentals for less than 30 days unless the host is present.
  • Paris: Since 2015, the city has imposed fines on owners who rent out secondary apartments or more than one property without a city-approved license. In 2019, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced her plans to impose a €12.5 million fine on Airbnb for unregistered ads.
  • Barcelona: In May 2018, the Spanish coastal city instructed Airbnb to remove 2,577 listings that it found to be operating without a city-approved license, or face substantial fines.
  • Berlin: Since 2018, hosts need to obtain a permit from the city to rent out their properties. The city also limits the number of nights that hosts can rent out their properties to 90 per year.
  • San Francisco: In 2014, the city legalized short-term rentals, but required hosts to register with the city, pay taxes, and limit rentals to 90 days per year. The city also limits the number of properties a host can list to one.

These are just some examples of how different cities have tried to balance the benefits and challenges of short-term rentals. The regulations are constantly evolving, so it’s important to check the latest rules before booking or hosting an Airbnb.

4. The ease of Serviced and Furnished appartments

While it might take a while before this new legislation is enforced to its fullest extent, it does seem like short stays with Airbnb in Brussels are coming to an end. If you are looking for accommodation, starting at 3 months, choosing furnished apartments offers numerous advantages. From the convenience and cost-effectiveness to the comfort and flexibility they provide, furnished apartments offer a home away from home experience that is tailored to the needs of expats. The fully equipped apartments, along with the additional space, create a comfortable and homely environment. The flexibility in lease duration and the opportunity to customize your living space add to the appeal of furnished apartments. Moreover, the amenities and services offered by many furnished apartment buildings enhance the expat experience. Whether you’re staying in Belgium for a few months or a few years, furnished apartments provide the ideal accommodation solution for expats seeking comfort, convenience, and a sense of home in this vibrant country.

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Bright Festival 2024: Follow the Light

Bright Festival 2024: Follow the Light

Every year in February, the city of Brussels, transforms into a mesmerizing spectacle of lights and colours. The Bright Festival, held from 15 to 18 February 2024, is an annual event that illuminates the winter nights and brings warmth to the hearts of its visitors. 

The festival will brighten two of the city’s emblematic neighbourhoods: the Royal Quarter and the European Quarter. This year, the festival shines a spotlight on Europe and its values, in conjunction with the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. During four enchanting nights, you’ll find about thirty different installations created by multiple international artists. Each of them leaves its mark on the city’s numerous sights.

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1. History of the Bright Festival

The Bright Festival in Brussels, also known as the Festival of Light, is a magical event that transforms the city into a vibrant display of colour and imagination. The festival was originally conceived in 2013 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Port of Brussels. The goal of the festival is to invite visitors to view the city from a new, whimsical perspective. Over the years, the festival has evolved into an annual event, offering a nighttime scavenger hunt of sorts, with visitors darting in and out of churches, art galleries, and medieval squares to catch a glimpse of the fantastical. The festival is also ecologically responsible, selecting artists with eco-friendly approaches and projects that use energy-efficient or renewable lighting.

2. Must See Artworks of the Festival

While it would be difficult to make a distinction between all the beautiful attractions, we’ll try to pick some of the most impressive ones. During your stay in Brussels, you’ve probably already seen the main historical buildings. The Bright Festival though, will put them in a completely different perspective. Here are some of our favourites that you should definitely try to see:

  • Aquatics, Place de Musee: “Aquatics” is an interactive artwork by Berlin-based artist and filmmaker Philipp Artus, which presents a generative underwater world populated by animated sea creatures. The audience can design their own species and add them to this virtual ecosystem, controlling their size, shape, colour, and behaviour. The artwork serves as both a utopia, showcasing the unknown beauty of nature, and a dystopia, hinting at how artificial ecosystems might replace real life in the future. Artus’ work is characterized by the exploration of life through movement, sound, and imagery, combining playful elements with minimalist structures, and juxtaposing timeless themes with contemporary observations.
  • Colosses, Leopold Park: Colosses is a captivating mural created by the Liège-based creative studio, 400 coups. The mural is an immersive tribute to the ancient giants, symbolizing their enduring legacy through a poetic visual journey that transcends time and space. The studio, founded by two individuals passionate about culture, video projection, and staging, has a diverse portfolio ranging from graphic design to project management. Each project is meticulously crafted from start to finish, with the customer at the core of the creative process.
  • The European Constellation, The Queen’s Gallery: In celebration of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Brussels-based company, magic monkey, has created an immersive experience in the Queen’s Gallery in the city centre. This unique creation showcases the diversity of Europe, with the colours of the 27 EU countries standing out, mingling, and culminating in the projection of the EU stars on either side of the gallery. Founded in 1995, Magic Monkey is a leader in architectural lighting and video design, transforming spaces into monumental communication platforms. Their key mission is to evoke emotion through innovative designs and meticulous implementations, collaborating with renowned entities worldwide.
  • OPEN ART, Art & History Museum: OPEN ART is an innovative installation that merges human creativity with artificial intelligence to offer an immersive visual experience. It explores the symbiotic relationship between man and machine through three distinct AI-generated paintings, brought to life by advanced visual mapping. Exhibited in the Antiquity wing of the Art & History Museum in Brussels, the installation takes visitors on a journey back to ancient times with artworks inspired by Roman art, mythology, and ancient Greek pottery aesthetics. Visitors are invited to interact with the works and contribute to their evolution using a digital palette, creating a dynamic experience where art and innovation push the boundaries of imagination.

3. Discoveries On Site: An Educational Zone for Children, and the Young at Heart

This year, the organisers of the festival have made a special effort to include activities for the youngest among us. In a collaboration, and students from the Industrial Design studio at La Cambre have created lots of playful works. The educational zone is located at La Cambre, Place d’Espagne. The area is open from 17:30 to 22:00, and entry is free of charge.

The “Discoveries on site” event, offers a variety of interactive activities. Camille Ledure’s “Reflections and Mirrors” allows participants to manipulate mirrors to project luminous shapes, while her “Light Trail” challenges balance and navigation skills on a course lit by a ribbon of light. Jeanne Boucquey’s “Jumps, shadows & movement” invites participants to chase moving shadows. Nessim Fares’ “The Northern Lights” enables participants to create their own auroras. Naya Christov’s “Totem of Light” and “Moving Silhouettes” encourage playful interaction with light and shadows, allowing participants to create a totem pole of light and project their own silhouettes.

Don’t worry, you can also visit the educational zone if you are no longer considered “a child”.

And Much More

Besides the artistic installations and the “Discoveries on Site”, an equally illuminating fringe programme of guided tours, live entertainment and “Bright Sessions” punctuate the festival.

The “Bright Sessions” is a brand new addition, where experts, artists and professionals from different fields will discuss various aspects of organising a light festival. You can join the conversation with top speakers on lighting design, sustainability, and event management.

The Bright Festival is more than just a festival of lights. It’s an immersive, artistic experience right in the heart of Europe. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, young or old, there’s something for everyone at this enchanting event. So, mark your calendars and get ready to be dazzled by the Bright Brussels Festival!

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The Sweet History of Belgian Chocolate

The Sweet History of Belgian Chocolate

Belgium is famous for many things, such as beer, waffles, lace, and of course, chocolate. But how did this small country become one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of this delicious treat? In this blog post, we will explore the history of Belgian chocolate, from its origins in the 17th century to its modern innovations and quality standards.

We will also introduce you to some of the best chocolate makers in Brussels, where you can find a variety of flavors and styles to suit your preferences. Whether you are a local or an expat, you will surely enjoy the rich and diverse chocolate culture of this city. So, get ready to indulge your sweet tooth and learn more about Belgian chocolate.

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1. The Spanish Connection

The first time chocolate arrived in Belgium was in the 17th century, when the region was under Spanish rule. The Spanish explorers had brought cocoa beans from South and Central America, where they had discovered the chocolate drink made by the native peoples. This drink was considered a luxury and a delicacy by the European nobility, who enjoyed it with sugar and spices.

One of the first recorded instances of chocolate being served in Belgium was in 1697, when Henri Escher, the mayor of Zurich, visited Brussels and was offered a cup of hot chocolate at the Grand Place. He was so impressed by the taste that he took the recipe back to Switzerland, which later became another major chocolate producer.

2. The Colonial Era

Chocolate remained a rare and expensive commodity until the 19th century, when Belgium colonized Congo and gained access to a large supply of cocoa beans. King Leopold II made Belgium the number one trader in cocoa and chocolate, and encouraged the development of the industry by granting tax exemptions and subsidies to chocolate makers.

One of the most influential figures in Belgian chocolate history was Jean Neuhaus, a Swiss pharmacist who moved to Brussels in 1857 and opened a shop in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. He started by selling medicinal chocolates coated with nuts and fruits, but soon realized that his customers preferred the chocolate itself. In 1912, his grandson Jean Neuhaus Jr. invented the praline, a hollow chocolate shell filled with cream, ganache, or nougat. He also created the ballotin, a special box designed to protect and present the pralines.

3. The Quality Standards

Belgian chocolate is known for its high quality and purity, which are regulated by law since 1894. The law states that at least 35% of cocoa must be used in chocolate production, and prohibits the use of vegetable fats or other additives that could alter the taste or texture of the chocolate. This ensures that Belgian chocolate has a rich flavor and a smooth melt-in-the-mouth feel.

In addition to the legal requirements, there are also voluntary standards that most Belgian chocolate makers adhere to. In 2007, the European Union introduced the “Belgian Chocolate Code”, which specifies that all stages of chocolate production must take place in Belgium, from roasting and grinding the cocoa beans to mixing and conching the chocolate mass.

Moreover, Belgian chocolate makers follow traditional methods and recipes that have been passed down for generations. They also use high-quality ingredients, such as fresh cream, butter, nuts, fruits, and natural flavors. They pay attention to every detail, from selecting the best cocoa beans to wrapping each praline by hand.

4. The Modern Trends

Belgian chocolate is not only rooted in tradition but also open to innovation. Today, Belgian chocolatiers are constantly experimenting with new flavors, shapes, textures, and techniques to create original and surprising products that appeal to different tastes and preferences.

Some examples of modern trends in Belgian chocolate are:

  • Bean-to-bar: Some chocolatiers source their own cocoa beans directly from farmers and control every step of the production process themselves. This allows them to create unique chocolates with distinctive flavors and aromas that reflect the origin and terroir of the beans.
  • Organic and fair trade: Some chocolatiers use organic and fair trade ingredients to produce chocolates that are not only delicious but also ethical and sustainable. They support small-scale farmers who grow cocoa without pesticides or chemicals and who receive fair prices for their crops.
  • Vegan and gluten-free: Some chocolatiers cater to customers who have dietary restrictions or preferences by offering vegan and gluten-free chocolates that do not contain any animal products or gluten. They use plant-based alternatives such as coconut milk or rice syrup to create creamy and tasty fillings.
  • Artisanal and personalized: Some chocolatiers create artisanal chocolates that are handcrafted with care and passion. They also offer personalized services, such as custom-made chocolates, gift boxes, or workshops, where customers can learn how to make their own chocolates or design their own pralines.

5. The Best Chocolatiers in Brussels

If you are an expat living in Brussels, or just visiting the city for a short time, you might be wondering where to find the best chocolate in town. After all, Belgium is famous for its high-quality and delicious chocolate, and Brussels is home to some of the most renowned chocolatiers in the world. To help you satisfy your sweet tooth, we have compiled a list of the best chocolatiers in Brussels for expats, based on their reputation, variety, creativity, and location. Here they are:

  • Mary Chocolatier: Founded in 1919 by Mary Delluc, this chocolate shop is a historical landmark in Brussels. It was the first to create the ballotin, a box designed to protect the delicate pralines. Mary Chocolatier is known for its elegant and refined chocolates, made with 100% cocoa butter and natural ingredients. You can find it in the Royal Gallery, among other locations.
  • Laurent Gerbaud: This artisan chocolate maker is a master of combining chocolate with sweet and savoury ingredients, spices and exotic fruits. His creations are original, surprising, and delicious. He was named Brussels’ Chocolatier of the Year 2021 by Gault & Millau. You can visit his shop and workshop near the Central Station, where you can also enjoy a chocolate tasting or a chocolate-making workshop.
  • Planete Chocolat: This chocolate factory is located in the heart of Brussels, near the Grand Place. It offers a wide range of chocolates, from traditional pralines to innovative flavours, such as lavender, ginger or chilli. Planete Chocolat also organizes chocolate demonstrations every weekend, where you can learn about the history and production of chocolate, and sample some of their products.
  • Pierre Marcolini: This is one of the most famous and prestigious chocolatiers in Belgium. Pierre Marcolini sources his cocoa beans directly from the best producers in the world and roasts them himself in his atelier. His chocolates are exquisite, refined, and artistic. He also creates seasonal collections and limited editions that showcase his creativity and passion. You can find his flagship store in the Sablon neighbourhood, among other locations. 
  • Wittamer: This is another historical chocolate shop in Brussels, founded in 1910. Wittamer is also a renowned pastry shop and has been awarded the title of Certified Royal Warrant Holder of Belgium. Their chocolates are made with high-quality ingredients and have a smooth and creamy texture. They offer a variety of flavours, from classic to exotic. You can visit their shop and salon de thé in Sablon square, where you can also admire their beautiful window displays. 

A chocolate finish​

Belgian chocolate is a product of history, culture, and craftsmanship. It has a long and rich tradition that dates back to the 17th century, when chocolate was first introduced to Belgium by the Spanish. It has a high quality and purity that are guaranteed by law and by voluntary standards. It has a diversity and creativity that are driven by innovation and experimentation. It is a treat that can satisfy any palate and occasion, from the classic praline to the modern bean-to-bar. It is, in short, a sweet symbol of Belgium’s identity and excellence.

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