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7th Year Nr. 73 - Tuesday, July 23rd 2019.

INTERVIEW

By Viviane Vogels
Patrick Bontinck

Patrick Bontinck

 



BRUSSELS HOTELS ASSOCIATION SUPREMO



About a year ago a group of Brussels Hoteliers decided that it was high time positive steps were taken in the development of the interests of the capital’s hotels and that was the start of the Brussels Hotel Association (BHA). Today, I met up with its first President Patrick Bontinck. Patrick is not only the new Association’s President, he is also Head of Operations for the Martins Group of Hotels and General Manager of the Hotel du Lac in Genval.

BBT: Why this initiative to start up a whole new Hoteliers’ Association when there already existed Horeca Brussels?

Grand PlacePB: It had become clear over the years that the Brussels Hotels had less and less in common with the Cafés and restaurants from a point of view of management and promotion needs. It was therefore very clear, especially from a point of view of the promotion of Brussels, that an evolution – if not a revolution – was needed in Brussels.
We are adamant that we need to play a leading role in the promotion of the destination and have therefore lobbied for AND obtained a seat on the board of both BITC and OPT. It was also important to be present in the economical life of our capital and, more importantly, to raise our profile in the economic community, hence the partnership with the Brussels Chamber of Commerce (BECI) where we also have a seat on the board.Our sector has evolved enormously and it is important that we stay on top of all the developments and ensure that our staff is also evolving with us.

 

BBT: …and then the crisis arrived?..

PB: we cannot deny that the situation is catastrophic and that clear measures are needed! The figures do not lie: in January our average occupancy went down by 17%, a trend which unfortunately continues for the foreseeable future. I want to be absolutely clear when I say that the impact of 9/11 on our business was not as important as what is taking place for the moment!

 

BBT: so what are your priorities?

PB: Figures don’t lie We have several priorities that I would like to highlight:
  1. As said before we need to ensure the further development of our industry and our staff. This will be vital for future survival, there is no doubt about that!
  2. We have to contribute in the construction of a performing destination. We need to develop partnerships such as our partnership with the Palais des Congrès (Square) (and yes it will open on schedule in September 2009!). An in depth planning and optimal coordination of activities for the whole year is needed as we already have in collaboration with BITC and the Palais des Congrès.
  3. The need to have our industry be recognized and seen as an industry like any other. For this we need naturally to show that we have a strict deontology in our industry also for our suppliers. We are proposing a central reference point for all suppliers which will make life much easier for all. Much is said about the suppliers and it is a crying shame that because of a very small number – less than 5% -  are not ‘clean’, the others must suffer. We need to eradicate that minority as fast as possible!

 

BBT: You seem very keen on this recognition?...

CrisisPB: Let us not forget that the Tourism Industry in general is the biggest employer in our country and it is high time that the industry is recognized as such! We need political support for that and that is also one of our tasks to open the minds of the politicians to the fact that is high time to consider considerable investments in our industry! I am glad to say that in Brussels we have already seen a definitive improvement on that level with very positive support for such large events as “ Plaisirs d’Hiver” which attracts a lot of visitors to the capital and bring ‘life’ in the city.

A major change or victory if you want that we already obtained is from the ‘commune‘ of Brussels (postal code 1000!) where we obtained a change in the citytax system. Before, city tax was a flat 10% on the total revenue of a hotel, today it is a fixed (for two years!) tax per occupied room and variable per hotel category, generally a ‘win-win’ situation for all! For 1000-Brussels city tax represents a cool €14 million euros per year! We are currently negotiating with the other communes to follow this example and have great hopes for a positive outcome.


BBT: BHA representative for the industry in Brussels?

PB: BHA exists nearly 1 year and today we represent over 80% of the capital’s hotels. We have also gone beyond the ‘frontiers’ and have included both Brabants in our association. Each hotel pays € 10 euros per room per year, an equitable price. The whole initiative was started by the representatives of Accor, Starwood, Martins, Crowne Plaza and Metropole, Plaza and Amigo. It was clear to all of us that the local squabbles had to end and that we had to become a solid, national and international player for our industry to get recognized in the position it deserves. We look even further and are in process of also grouping all other exiting associations such as the F&B Managers, AICR (Chef de reception), Sales Manager or Revenue Managers association under our heading to give the whole more power. By taking offices in The Brussels Chamber of Commerce (BECI) it also gives us a more serious standing in the industrial community.

 

BBT: In the meantime all is doom and gloom…

PB: The sector has been moaning and groaning for over 15 years and nothing ever happened. Lamenting and black crisisthoughts are not going to change a thing; therefore we need to be more positive in our approach and in our language. Today we need to create a positive basis on which we will construct a long-term positive promotion of our destination. There will always be certain colleagues who dwell in the past and do not agree with our policy, but the fact is that we cannot continue as we have done all these years. We need a valid and up to date business model and we need to ensure that in these difficult months we do our utmost to obtain more lenient rules for our industry to help avoid bankruptcies that otherwise are sure to come in the following months.

 

BBT: Can you name a few proposals you are working on?

PB: First we are lobbying to obtain economic unemployment facilities for our employees (normally only possible for workers!); this is absolutely vital for the survival of many houses! Second we are also hoping to obtain the deferral of certain regular payments such as VAT and other taxes in order to avoid cash flow problems for our members. Both these points are hopefully in the pipeline for our members and will give a much needed breathing space to our industry and avoid catastrophes.

 

BBT: Next to this important Presidency, you are also the General Manager of the Chateau du Lac and Head of Operations of the Martin’s Group, does that leave you some spare time for other activities?

PB: Well, there is of course first my family: my wife Sylvie and our two children (2 & 5 years old). My wife works in a totally different discipline, the social sector in Molenbeek, and that means she helps me not only to keep my two feet well anchored, but also to have a more social approach and a spirit that is more open to a multicultural society. It all helps in my business. I try to be present in the evening for my kids, put them to bed, even if it means that afterwards I go back behind the computer for some more work. I am a very disciplined worker, I’m well organized, a necessity if I want to get through all the work every day and I am also well assisted at all levels.

 

BBT: How did you end up here in Genval?

PB: Well, as a young man I left Belgium to attend the Hotel school in Lausanne. In my mind I had left Belgium for good, never to come back. After my studies I went to work in Bali, but I got very upset by the uncouth attitude from the genvalforeigners towards the local inhabitants and had less and less patience for this sort of situations. So I decided to leave and then where do you go, you end up in the home country. I found work in the Martin’s Group , climbed the ladder and at 28 was a young General Manager for the Sucrerie in Waterloo. Today I am 37 and for the last 6 years I have been running the Château du Lac and also the Operations and the development for the rest of the Group. For the moment we are very busy with the imminent opening of our 10th hotel in Mechelen and we are still looking for new projects.

 

BBT: two hard jobs to combine…

PB: Yes, but a decision I have taken with a clear mind! It is vitally important to keep in touch with the day-to-day running of a hotel in order to be able to manage all the other properties and their challenges. Our industry and more importantly, our clients are evolving so rapidly, one needs to keep a hand in to be on top of things!. We are in the luxury end of the hotel industry and just look at how different luxury is perceived today than let’s say 10 years ago. Today luxury is more accessible, clients are more aware of what ‘should be present, are far more outspoken and therefore demanding, they live the luxury experience totally differently! Today one of the biggest luxuries is an ‘incognito’ visit to a great hotel, clients do not want to be bothered with details. So it is necessary for us, in order to be competitive, to keep on creating new experiences and for that it is necessary to listen to our clients. It is also important to have the right level of consideration for our staff; they are our most precious commodity!

 

BBT: things you still want to do?...

Africa London
PB: I am dreaming of visiting Australia but the kids are still a bit too young for the moment. My favorite continent is actually Africa, so I will probably also schedule some trips there; I just love the Africans and their life philosophy. My favorite city is London, mainly because of its multicultural and easy-going atmosphere. I do admit I do not have much time for sport and actually from my stay in Switzerland I have kept a great love of skiing; here again we will have to wait a little while longer for the kids to be able to enjoy it as well!


Patrick Bontinck is a busy man, but also an affable host and although with his two feet firmly in the 21st century where his vision for the hotel industry is concerned, he has not forgotten the charm of the ‘hosting’ aspect of living and working in hotels! I did manage to lift a small corner of the veil on the likes and dislikes of this rather private man: he admits to a great love for spas and massages! I cannot but agree wholeheartedly with him on that point!

 

Dolce Far NienteLIKES
  • Mediterranean Cuisine
  • Wines of the Loire Valley served cooled
  • A multicultural society
  • My job – it’s a  passion
  • Dolce far niente...just doing nothing!
DISLIKES
  • Oysters
  • Liver, kidneys, etc...
  • Lack of respect
  • Haughtiness
  • Refusal to accept changes

 

The ideal dining companions
  • Barak Obama & Martin Luther King: in order to confront the dream with the reality and to listen to their view of the world and their convictions
  • Albert Einstein: to help me understand how such a brilliant man stayed so humble.
  • God: I would like to ask him a number of questions to which I cannot find answers
  • Buddha: to learn about his philosophy of life

BuddhaMartin Luther KingAlbert Einstein


Brussels Hotel Association
Avenue Louise, 500
1050 – Brussels
Tel : +32(0)2 655 74 40
Fax :+32(0)2 655 74 28
pb@martinshotels.com

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