For each ‘Planner’s Pick,’ Prevue interviews a planner for their choices of compelling, high value destinations.
PLANNER: KATHY ARTUSO
BCD Meetings & Incentives
Brussels is HQ for the European Union and NATO, located on the high-speed train route between Paris and Amsterdam. So the city obviously knows how to put together large, important meetings. But what’s the lowdown on incentive travel?
“I thought it was more of a business capital and not really an incentive destination, but once I got there, I mean, it’s absolutely breathtaking,” says Kathy Artuso, a buyer with BCD Meetings & Incentives. She attended a FAM to Belgium in July, hosted by Visit Belgium.
“Brussels is an incredible walking town starting with the center square,” she says. “I could have spent an hour looking at each one of the buildings, they’re so incredibly ornate.” The baroque Grand-Place has always been considered one of the most beautiful squares in existence, which Jean Cocteau called “the most beautiful theater in the world.” But Artuso says the wealth of museums and charming outdoor cafes along the “very, very clean streets” sold her on the destination.
That, and the chocolate. “Ohmigod, chocolate shops galore,” she says. And the beer, the beer is great! I was a Miller Lite girl before I left, but not anymore.” Artuso highly recommends groups book an “evening beer safari” to some of the historic taverns she says would be impossible to find on your own, as well as beer tasting and chocolate-making classes. For the latter, check out zaabar.be.
For activities besides tossing back local brew, Artuso recommends a scavenger hunt to find some of the 18 huge comic book murals painted on the sides of buildings. Brussels is the fictional home of the European children’s comic book hero Tintin, who traveled everywhere with his sidekick pup from Moscow to the American West. She raves about the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée (Belgian Comic Book Center), an Art Nouveau masterpiece celebrating comic art from around the globe. The museum seats up to 550.
For conventions, she toured The Square, a new high-tech modernist venue with 145,000 sf of meeting space that opened in September.
The group spent the third day traveling to Ghent and Bruges, a ½-hour and 1-hour high-speed train ride from Brussels, respectively. The trips are 50% longer by tour bus.
In Ghent, the group took a slow boat ride around the canals, before stopping for coffee and more chocolate. “It’s very well preserved, very authentic, it just felt very Medieval,” says Artuso. In Bruges, there was a citywide going on but the UNESCO city still felt very quiet. “When I saw the movie, I wasn’t sure what to think about Bruges. But it’s exactly what you think: small, charming, historic. We even rode in a horse and carriage, which you actually want to do there.”
Brussels is perfectly suited for post-trips, so Artuso and her friend explored Amsterdam for a few days, two hours away. Upon their return, they booked another night in Brussels. “So here we are at 11:30 at night, two girls traveling alone with suitcases,” she says. “We loved our husbands even more at that point. But we felt completely safe, not even a little worried when we walked from the station to our hotel.
“That’s the beauty of Brussels, it’s like Europe at your fingertips and it’s relatively affordable compared to the rest of the continent. It makes Europe much more approachable to many more types of groups.”