Winners of the Belgian Tourist Awards What’s Up! 2021 are Malta, Tyrol and Krakow!
Belgian Tourist Awards is pleased to announce the winners from its just-concluded voting contest for favourite tourist destinations around the world by Belgian tourists. This year’s edition Belgian Tourist Awards What’s Up! 2021 was conceived following the restart of the travel activities and the tourism industry after been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020.
With over 10,000 Belgian registered voters, voting began in July 2021 until 30, July 2021. A total of 6,630 Belgian tourists actually voted to crown the final winners in this year’s edition.
Belgian Tourist Awards What’s Up! 2021 saw Malta, Krakow and Tyrol emerge as winners in the voting contest.
“Malta impresses Belgian Tourists and wins two Awards”
Belgium Tourist Awards sits down with Mr Carlo Micallef, Chief Marketing Officer for the Malta Tourism Authority and Deputy CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority.
Malta was crowned the winner by Belgian voters at the 2021 edition. It won the awards of ‘Country of the Year’ and overall ‘Destination of the Year’. Mr Micallef took us through the plans of the Maltese Tourism Authority and what tourists should expect in the year 2021 of the island nation in the Mediterranean Sea.
GROWTH IN TOURISM
“Before the coronavirus pandemic, Malta was enjoying record after record, with a tourist influx of about 2.75M visitors in 2019 from around the world and more than 70,000 tourists from Belgium.”
INVESTING IN QUALITY
In 2019 there were plans to slow down the growth in the influx of tourists to get more room to improve the infrastructure of the island so tourists can enjoy new and even better qualitative experiences. When the pandemic struck, a new priority was launched. Carlo Micallef: “We took the opportunity to invest in the human resources that work in the tourism industry. We invested millions of euros to help our frontline workers and improve their skills and qualifications. At the same time, we incentivized hotels and players in the tourism industry to invest in their hotels, to do refurbishments and renovations, and we also encouraged them to to improve their operations to a more sustainable and eco-friendly level.”
WHAT TO DO
Mr Micallef is working very closely with Heritage Malta, which is the government agency in charge of all the historical attractions and buildings that are government-owned in Malta and Gozo. They have invested in the latest technology at various attractions to get a better experience. “I am confident that we are offering more and a better experience than we used to offer even in 2019”.
When asked when would be the best time to visit Malta, Mr Micallef says: “At the end of the winter season or spring as well as from September to November. These are the best times as the nature is wonderful and it’s not so hot as in the peak of summer.” When asking what to visit, he reveals that Malta is the ideal combination between culture, sun and nature. There is art and there is drama, there are many exhibitions in 2021 and 2022. He recommends that tourists visit the UNESCO heritage sites like the City of Valletta, the Megalithic Temples and the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. Of course for Belgian visitors the culinary aspect is also very important. Malta has some really fine wines that you should definitely try as well as some traditional dishes like Lampuki, the Maltese name for the dorado fish, sourced at the Mediterranean Sea, or Ftira, a flattened sourdough bread, classified as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
”Nowadays, following the pandemic, tourists want to visit a place where they feel secure and enjoy a great experience. And we are happy to say that the full vaccination rate in Malta is now at 90%. Also, tourists who want to travel to Malta, should be fully vaccinated. To relaunch tourism, the government has launched several benefits for the tourist and local tourist players, for a total of 1.5 million euros. As a tourist you can get €200 for your next trip to Malta in 2021: if booking a 5 star property the hotel gives you €100 and the government puts in another €100. It will not be a cash handout, but you should spend the €200 in the hotel and services offered at the hotel as a discount. So I suggest when looking for an accommodation, look out for hotels with discount codes.”
“Time to visit Krakow, the City of Kings!”
Belgium Tourist Awards meets Mrs Dominika Szulc the Director of Polish Tourism Organisation in Belgium.
Krakow is a multicultural and tolerant city, open and welcoming to all visitors, with its fairytale architecture, atmospheric old Town and bustling neighbourhoods. It is the perfect destination for a city break.
Mrs Dominika Szulc of the Polish Tourism Organisation in Belgium reveals that “winning the Award is a big pleasure and an honour; Krakow is the most famous Polish city abroad and most visited.” It is also one of the greenest cities in the world – in the Husqvarna Urban Green Space Index (HUGSI), Krakow was ranked fifth in the world and third in Europe.
HISTORY, GASTRONOMY AND YOUNG PEOPLE
Mrs Szulc urged more Belgians and mostly the younger people and students, looking for a sunnier destination, to visit Krakow and take advantage of its weather and its schools. Poland is strongly associated with culture and with cultural heritage and history. “There is a lot of great and very interesting culture, and Krakow is a very lively city because it is a very young city”.
Krakow’s Main Market Square Rynek is “the biggest mediaeval square of the whole world. It’s huge and it’s the central part of the city around this place”. On one corner is the Basilica of Our Lady, on the other corner is the smaller church of Saint Adelbert. In the majestic Cloth Hall, where Flemish and English textiles were traded in the Middle Ages, now mainly jewellery and ceramics are for sale. Rynek Underground shows the development of the city through the centuries.
Top restaurants and terraces have sprung up around the square, and music is heard everywhere: modern and traditional mixed together. “You have over 300 cafeterias, restaurants, pubs here. So you can taste great food, great Polish cuisine, great international cuisine. And you can listen to some music.” In 2019 Krakow was named the European Gastronomic Capital.
You can also visit the Wawel Royal Castle: one of the most recognizable castles in Poland. It probably appears on postcards more often than any other Polish object. This famous royal residence is now a museum made up of five separate departments: The Crown Treasury and Armory, the State Rooms, the Royal Private Apartments, the Lost Wawel Castle and the Oriental Art Exhibition.
EXPERIENCE CHRISTMAS AND ATTRACTIONS
There is not much difference in weather between Belgium and Poland: “it’s a nice destination all year: summers are hotter, and winters are colder”. Tourists will experience a very beautiful and green field in spring and winter tourists will experience the massive illumination for Christmas and beautiful sights of Christmas trees lined up in the city. “It’s made of sustainable light, so it doesn’t take too much electricity, and it’s really beautiful”.
Krakow has 117 museums! “In the Princes Czartoryski Museum, you can see the painting ‘The Lady with an Ermine’ by Leonardo da Vinci. And this year, Wawel Royal Castle is hosting a unique exhibition ‘All King’s Tapestries: Homecomings’. Take advantage of the #visitKrakow program, which gives access to discounts at museums, tourist attractions, restaurants, services, leisure facilities and shops!”
The origins of Krakow go back to the 7th century, the city flourished in the Middle Ages but also withstood the persecution of the Jews in WWII and the communist period in the second half of the 20th century. Much from these periods have been preserved, visiting Krakow is a fantastic journey through time.
The Jewish culture is strong. Tourists will find them in Kazimierz “a very famous district with a lot of restaurants, a lot of pubs, bars and many young people. But still with a lot of Jewish tradition: you have restaurants with Jewish music and with Jewish food. And of course, monuments like the synagogues and places of worship”.
FUTURE PLANS AND EUROPEAN GAMES
On sustainable programs embarked by the city of Krakow, Mrs Szulc says “the region is working now on developing cycling paths and renting bikes. we already have 186 km of signposted cycle paths – more than half of which are reserved exclusively for cyclists”. Krakow is also regulating mass tourists to protect its UNESCO heritage sites.
Mrs Szulc adds that sports lovers will experience the 2023 European Games in Krakow, which is a continental sporting event designed after the Olympics.
The Polish government has implemented measures to ensure the pandemic is curtailed. Tourists should look out for safety certificates, placed on hotels and businesses. “This is for hotels and restaurants: they follow a code of sanitary restrictions” Mrs Szulc further states that “there is no problem to fly to Poland. If you want to enter Poland, you need a vaccination, or a test made 48 hours before entrance.”
“Fans of Nature are Fans of Tyrol”
Belgium Tourist Awards meets with Ms Denise Krug, the Tyrol Market Manager for Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden.
Tyrol won the Region of the Year Award. The region is famous for its mountains, ski resorts, historic sites, and traditions.
On what makes Tyrol a unique destination, Ms Krug attributes it to nature and landscape: “the major advantage and attraction of Tyrol is the nature and the landscape. We hear that from our guests when we ask them what fascinate them about Tyrol. They say it is the pure nature and the alpine scenery. Because we are situated in the heart of the alps we do a lot of sports like hiking, biking, climbing and walking – but the majority of Belgians visiting chose a recreational holiday.”
CULTURE AND FESTIVALS
Tyrol has several festivals and traditions and tourists who visit at the end of summer will enjoy the sights of cattle returning from the high Alpine pastures called “Almabtrieb”. “The cattle are decorated with flowers and hand-crafted decoration on the head, a big spectacular thing where there is music and traditional food and you can enjoy the busy act.” For the habitant of Tyrol the tradition is relevant and repeated yearly. “We have various festivals, music, concerts and art exhibitions, so you can find both: tradition and modern life. That is something special, coexisting side by side.” Tourists are welcomed to enjoy the modern festivals that are held all over the country: “Several musicians play, there is house music, electronic music, and also pop music and folk music.”
In Tyrol, visiting tourists can enjoy the typical and traditional dishes such as Knödel, “It is traditional here: either you eat it with cheese, bacon (Speck) or spinach, so it is quite savoury, but you can also have it as a dessert or sweet option with chocolate, or plums, strawberries, apricots,…”
Tourists can benefit from summers cards in Tirol. Ms Krug explains that the summer card enables free access to public transport, use of cable cars, visit of local sights and museums and local swimming areas/lakes.
You can find activities in the mountains for those seeking adventures: “For instance, the Wetterleuchten festival at the top of the mountain range Nordkette in Innsbruck, you party at more than 2,000 feet above sea level with DJ’s and you can also spend the night there. It is easy and accessible with a cable car. There are different festivals and events depending on where you go and what you look for”.
Ms Krug says that more than 60% of Belgian tourists visit in winter for skiing and winter sports as they enjoy the snow and wintertime in the Alps. “I would recommend for tourists to come outside of the winter season, it is a fascinating time in autumn, at the end of summer, as the leave are colourful and the views become crystal-clear.” There has been a shift in tourists’ behaviour because of the pandemic. “One thing tourists don’t want to do is travelling far. They prefer vacations that are not far away, and for Belgium, we are not that far away.”
CLIMATE CHANGE AND SUSTAINABILITY
“We recognise that there’s a different need, and not only because of the Covid-Pandemic but also due to the climate change. It is necessary to change the tourism industry fundamentally and we are following a tourism strategy called Tyrolean Way.” There is a plan in place to use and foster “innovative measures to sustainability,” Ms Krug says Tyrol is focusing to that effect on three aspects: ecological, economic, and social aspects.
SAFETY 3G RULE: TESTED, VACCINATED, RECOVERED
Measures are put in place by the Government to prevent the spread of corona: since the reopening the “3G Rule” is in place. Testing in Tyrol and Austria is free. “It is recently also possible to get PCR tests for free, in addition to the antigen tests. We are very used to testing and the government has established an extensive infrastructure for testing and vaccination. Currently, 56% of the population is fully vaccinated and 60% has received the first injection” Ms Krug invites tourists: “feel welcome, feel at home and enjoy the hospitability! Tyrolians are easy going.”
Belgian Tourist Awards is committed to inform and promote best of class destinations for Belgian tourists. The categories and nominees in 2021 were:
Country: Malta, Ireland, The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Dominican Republic
Regions: Kent, Saarland and Tyrol
Cities: Krakow, Nantes, Edinburgh and Munich
Winner category Country: Malta
The island country was chosen as the winner for the second time in a row. Congratulations, Malta!
Strong points in 2021:
Malta is home to the oldest surviving structures in the world: the Neolithic temples which are over 7,000 years old, older than Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt. Visiting Malta will enable you to learn about its culture, monuments and beautiful bays, or to enjoy the Mediterranean climate.
Malta is characterized by the influence of many cultures: Arab, Roman, Italian, French and British. The Order of the Knights of St. John, who settled in the country in the 15th century, founded the city of Valletta, tourists are expected to see the fortresses and churches built centuries ago.
To feel at home in Malta several hotels have undergone facelifts during the pandemic to welcome tourists who will experience the renovated versions of hotels. For movie lovers, Malta has been a location for great film productions, its islands are dubbed the “Hollywood of Europe” and tourists have the opportunity to visit the “Game of Thrones” universe.
For food lovers, Malta’s chefs have become increasingly creative and its culinary expertise has not gone unnoticed as several of its restaurants recently received the Michelin star. Belgian tourists will have a taste of several delicacies in the Birgu district, located in the capital Valletta, and also find BeBirgu restaurant, run by a Belgian chef.
Winner category Region: Tyrol
Tyrol – known for its breath-taking panoramas, historic sites and omnipresent nature – has become the winner in the category region. Congratulations, Tyrol!
Strong points in 2021:
‘Der Tiroler Weg’ strategy is meant to support its sustainable development plan. Its vast rail network makes the region accessible, there are options for soft mobility solutions. The accommodation offers also sustainable solutions: ecological construction, organic and local meals, etc.
For the summer season 2021, new routes will open, such as the 30 km long Osttirol Farm Route or the new fortress route TirolWest, to combine walks and visits to ruins and castles! Tirol has a special geographical position that creates spectacular routes with breathtaking panoramas, but that’s not all. For 2021, many modern infrastructures have been set up to please fans of two wheels, even a special gastronomic offer for mountain bikers!
The Ötztal Inside Summer Card pass gives you free entry to swimming pools, lakes or even museums, while the Outdoor Community Card allows you to embark on nature adventures such as tandem skydiving.
The five nature parks and the Hohe Tauern National Park invites you to enter the intimacy of the Alpine landscape and enjoy its beauty from nature. Accompanied by an experienced guide, you will discover beautiful landscapes and the typical ecosystem.
Mountain biking, cycling, hiking, parachuting, bungee jumping, rock climbing, rafting, surfing and kite surfing, golfing, sailing. In Tirol, you will always find an activity.
Winner category City: Krakow
Located on the Vistula River with ancient treasures, rich Jewish culture and many historical sites, Krakow emerged as the winner in the category city for the second time in a row. Congratulations, Krakow!
Strong points in 2021:
Krakow is one of the greenest cities in the world – in the Husqvarna Urban Green Space Index (HUGSI), Krakow was ranked fifth in the world and third in Europe.
Krakow has 117 museums! Whether you’re an exhibition enthusiast or just curious, there’s something for everyone. In the Princes Czartoryski Museum, you can see the painting “The Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci. And this year, Wawel Royal Castle is hosting a unique exhibition “All King’s Tapestries: Homecomings”.
Walk into open-air restaurants, taste local specialities, visit one of the market places with fresh and organic food! And who says good food, says drink well: microbreweries, vodka and other cocktails will delight gourmets.
Take advantage of the #visitKrakow program, which gives access to discounts at museums, tourist attractions, restaurants, services, leisure facilities and shops!
Since 1978, the city centre, located on the banks of the Vistula, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Krakow was the European capital of gastronomic culture in 2019, proof that Poland has a rich and varied cuisine.
Winner overall category Destination: Malta
As the winner of the overall destination category for the second time in a row, Malta has once again shown that it continues to impress Belgian tourists. Congratulations, Malta!
Experience the rich culture of Malta:
Despite being a small island nation, Malta has three inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Valletta, the Megalithic Temples of Malta and Hal Saflieni Hypogeum) and seven sites are on UNESCO’s tentative list (Grand Harbour, Victoria Lines Fortifications, Maltese Catacomb Complexes, Mdina, Cittadella on Gozo, North West Coastal Cliffs and Dwejra on Gozo). These sites are protected under international law and preserved in the interest of the international community and considered to be of major significance to humanity.
Glass blowing and Maltese lace are among a few of the local crafts, practised for centuries. The Ta` Qali crafts village hosts several workshops where you can see local artisans at work and buy their pieces at very reasonable prices.
You can catch the ferry from Ċirkewwa at the northern-most tip of Malta to arrive at Mġarr, Gozo. It’s a 20-minute trip that goes past Comino straight across the channel between the larger of the two Maltese islands.
Experience areas next to the Maltese capital Valletta such as the Grand Harbour, and on the other side there are the Three Cities: Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. Birgu is a port district that was once relatively poor. Nowadays this place has become very trendy. It’s the place to be with great restaurants, boutique hotels and cool jazz cafes.
The Mosta Dome is one of Malta’s largest churches, located in the village of Mosta and known for its dome-shaped roof which is the third largest unsupported church dome in Europe.
July 2021 – Copyright Belgian Tourist Awards – All rights reserved