To say the tourism industry in Europe suffered a setback in the wake of the Paris terror attacks is an understatement. The airspace above France and borders surrounding the country were shut down after gunmen rampaged and terrorized the streets of Paris two weeks ago. Brussels issued a lockdown, with curfews being enforced and security alerts ramped up to maximum. Tourists left in a huff and all incoming flights were cancelled. Now that the dust has settled, the country is looking for ways to entice tourists to reinstate Brussels on their “safe to travel” list.
Tourism officials are taking new and interesting steps to get people back into Belgium. Cats have inadvertently become the unofficially new mascot of Brussels during the emergency phase after the attacks as their residents took over social media with thousands of cat and kitten pictures, in response from a request by the authorities for the public not to share any information about the ongoing raids happening in the city. Rather than take shots of officials and posting it on Instagram, Brusselites tweeted and posted images of cats in adorable positions. Some were posted with their paws up, wearing police uniforms and bowler hats, in a nod to Rene Magritte, the country’s most famous surrealist painter.
In response, the men in blue also tweeted a picture of cat food as thanks to the residents for their assistance and now, tourism officials are superimposing cats and kittens on some of the city’s attractions and hot spots in a light hearted attempt to entice visitors back to the country. Predictably, visitorship hasn’t really picked up even after the announcement that any imminent danger had been routed and the emergency levels had been brought down to “normal.” A walk to the famous night market and the unique Atonium – an iron wrought crystal structure which used to attract tourists in droves – now stand isolated in an empty square. Owners of many businesses are also feeling the pinch, with shops now closing early to avoid wasting resources.
Hope and optimism are still high among many, though. The humor behind the cat campaign represents a need for the city to lighten up, portray a confident air where they can laugh and dispel the fog of fear that had descended on the populace. The message is that “it’s over” and life can return to normal; there is no use living life in fear, like terrorism typically aims to achieve, and let’s hope that Brussels can enjoy the coming Christmas with its usual festive atmosphere chock-full of tourists from all over the world.