If there was ever a Minister of Tourism that I would like to spend an afternoon with, discussing the complexity of the global hospitality, travel and tourism industry, Christos Doulkeridis would be the one. Over the years I have met many tourism executives, and the interviews have ranged from boring and cryptic to energetic and imaginative, but few have displayed a willingness (or ability) to pursue a “boots on the ground” pragmatism combined with a sincere desire to address the future needs of the industry. Doulkeridis is a skeptic and a realist tied together with a leader’s understanding of what he can do and what he must get others to accomplish.
Changing the Way We Live
Doulkeridis appears to have been born into politics and governance; since childhood his objective was to “change the world.” He believes that every person has the ability to accomplish “something,” the dilemma is determining what is a passion and what is merely a passing fancy. When he was 12 he was asked what he wanted to do with his life, and he clearly stated, “I want to be a politician and a Member of Parliament.” He wanted to find systems and procedures that would improve the way people live together, and he could only accomplish this by being a change agent.
While his focus is clearly on the future of tourism, he is not anxious to burn or bury the past. He is more inclined to study the past (warts and all), analyze successes and failures, and then find new directions that will bring about innovative and improved results. He does not see himself, his city, or his country doing this individually but rather as part of a global network of communities with similar interests and objectives.
Even though he is a politician, he is open to an evolutionary process that includes negotiations. He views the new perspectives of today’s high school and college students as ideas to consider and even embrace… for it is not the source of the idea that most interests Doulkeridis, it is the merit (and its reasonableness) that intrigues him.
The Minister’s career in politics is unique and intriguing. Anxious to get into policymaking, he decided to skip college and he entered politics in 1991 as the Local Secretary of Ecolo Anderlecht. Moving through the government hierarchy he became the Assistant Federal Secretariat for policy Ecolo where he worked on issues that included political ecology and defined the party’s strategy and communication network. As a member and Vice President of the Parliament of the French Community he focused on technical and vocational education.
Since 2009 he has been responsible for government negotiations, and concentrated on such varied issues as employment discrimination and the rights of minorities, work transparency, citizenship education, international relations, and the promotion of French. Currently he is the Secretary of State in charge of the Brussels Government and Housing Service, as well as the Fire and Emergency Medical Services. Of significant importance is his position as Prime Minister of the French Government Brussels in charge of Tourism, Education, and Budget.
To support his interest in the hospitality, travel, and tourism industry, Doulkeridis is a founding member of the association Karikol, Slow Food Brussels. To validate his commitment to sustainability, he authored the book, “175 Belgians Began to Save the Planet,” in collaboration with Caroline Hats Editions Etopia. He is also Chair of the High School Lucia de Brouckere and a Board Member of the Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
Doulkeridis places sustainability at the top of his agenda and is supportive of the French initiated (1994) Green Key program that assesses vendors in the hospitality, travel, and tourism industry as to the merits of their sustainability projects. Successful candidates have met standards that evaluate environmental management, employee involvement, environmental information for guests (documents and signage), water management, housekeeping, energy and waste management, food, nature-based activities, office administration, interior environment, and green spaces. At this time, some Brussels hotels have met the standards and are permitted to display Green Keys. The properties included in the Green Key group include the Radisson Blu Royal, the Radisson Blu EU, the NH Hotel Atlanta, L’Auberge des 3 Fontaine, Hotel Le Plaza, and The Stanhope Hotel.
Brusselicious. Slow Food Movement
There are certain foods that are immediately identified with Brussels: sprouts, mussels, fries in paper cones and waffles; however, Brussels is seeking to be recognized as a gourmet destination with food teamed with events that include roasted wild boar and guinea fowl presented in the Town Hall courtyard along with bear trainers and minstrels. Champagne, caviar, and lobster dinners will be served in the art deco rooms of the Villa Empain, while “fashionable” food will be linked to designers who add their imaginative wishes and dreams to their favorite entrees.
Importance of Tourism
In 2011, Brussels received 3,166,224 million visitors representing approximately 6 million overnight stays, equating to an increase of 7.5 percent since 2010, according to the Directorate-General Statistics and Economic Information of Belgium. In this 12-month period, most visitors were from France (447,943), the United Kingdom (258,245), Spain (207,500), Germany (223,771), and the United States (163,594).
Brussels is considered to be the de facto capital of the European Union (EU). The EU has no official capital and has no plans to declare one, but Brussels hosts the official seats of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, and European Council, as well as a seat (actually the second seat but de facto the most important one) of the European Parliament.
According to UIA (Union of International Associations) criteria, Brussels is the first congress city in Europe and the second in the world, while ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) has placed Brussels as the 21st congress city in the world. Some 56 percent of the congresses in the capital are organized by a European institution and approximately 14 percent by international organizations and associations. Annually more than 70,000 meetings and events are organized in Brussels with more than 7 million participants and congress tourism provides 25,000 jobs. Brussels is the sixth most important business city in Europe, after London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Berlin, and 75 percent of business tourism is the result of the presence of the European Institutions in Brussels8.
Brussels is located in what is termed the urban center of Europe between Paris, London, Rhine and Ruhr, and Randstad. Using the high-speed train from Brussels, visitors can reach Paris in 85 minutes, and London, Amsterdam, and Cologne in 65 minutes. It will take only three hours to reach Frankfurt, Germany.
Carrying the Brussels Tourism Message
Doulkeridis is upfront about the merits of Brussels, from its 600 different beers to its world-class chocolate and outstanding waffles. It is also noted for its lace and tapestries. Most of all, according to the Tourism Minister, the most engaging part of Brussels is the people who live and work in this small but cosmopolitan city. Doulkeridis understands the need to differentiate his product in a complex and crowded tourism market. He recognizes that his programs and projects must be both engaging and inspired and be more than thoughts on a memo. He has eagerly taken a vulnerable but exciting position at the tip of the tourism arrow, pointing the direction for insightful and energetic projects and programs that are designed move from the virtual world to reality, measuring his success with one happy tourist after another.