Hotel Republic and its partner The Hotel. Brussels, teamed up with Eurostar and Visit Brussels, to host a group of UK buyers on a sustainability focused fam trip to Brussels last week, and our editor Susie Harwood was lucky enough to tag along. Here, she reports on the experience, which was perfectly timed to coincide with World Earth Day on Friday (22 April) …
Sustainability is a topic that I am passionate about, so I jumped at the chance to attend this trip to Brussels – my first fam in a long time and my first visit to Belgium. The aim of the trip was to demonstrate how The Hotel. Brussels and Hotel Republic are working with partners such as Eurostar, Visit Brussels and other suppliers to deliver more sustainable solutions for meetings and events, and it certainly hit that objective.
I for one found the experience incredibly interesting and informative. We so often hear venues and suppliers talking about sustainability but being able to see first-hand the efforts that are being made by our hosts was fantastic.
There is a mounting pressure upon the events industry to play its part in protecting the future of the planet by reducing our environmental footprint. This year’s Earth Day theme ‘Invest in our planet’ was all about making a change. And if all event organisers and suppliers commit to making changes, however small, they can add up to make a huge difference. Sustainability is a journey, not a race, and no-one has reached the finish line yet. Our hosts were honest about the fact that there is still more to be done but were proud to share the positive changes they are already making along their sustainable journey, as they should be.
And talking of journeys, back to Brussels…
Train v Plane
We travelled by Eurostar, which is significantly more environmentally friendly than flying – 90% less greenhouse gas emissions per passenger on Eurostar than the equivalent short-haul flight in fact. If you’re considering hosting an event in Brussels, it’s worth noting that the carbon footprint from just one flight can be the same as making 13 Eurostar journeys, which could make a huge difference for larger groups. Plus, Eurostar is continuing to invest in sustainability, with plans to switch entirely to renewable energy – it’s already using wind power to run its trains in the Netherlands.
I’ve not travelled by Eurostar in a few years, but it was as I remembered, a smooth, efficient and enjoyable way to travel. For this trip, we were also treated to Business Premier, so were lucky enough to enjoy time in the lounge, and Champagne and food on the journey – arriving in Brussels in what felt like no time at all!
Farm to fork
Our first stop was a visit to BIGH – an aquaponics farm set in the heart of Brussels that farms salmon trout and grows fresh produce such as tomatoes and herbs in its greenhouses and rooftop garden. It is also a supplier to The. Hotel Brussels, our host hotel for the trip.
After enjoying a glass of fizz in the unseasonably warm sunshine on the rooftop and tasting the most delicious dishes, created using produce from the farm, we embarked on a tour.
Our guide François, assistant manager of aquaculture, was personable, knowledgeable and passionate, and it was fascinating to learn about how the farm works as a circular system, designed to minimise waste and energy input, for example the water that comes out of the fish farm is naturally rich in nutrients and used to fertilise the hydroponic systems and outdoor garden.
We then headed to The Hotel. Brussels for a true farm-to-fork experience. Working with fresh produce direct from BIGH and other local Belgian suppliers located within a few miles of the property, we took part in a culinary class run by chef Pierre Balthazar. We then sat down in the hotel’s (recently renovated) restaurant The Iris to enjoy the meal that we helped to prepare. It was a fabulous experience following the food from source to table and would work well as an activity for meeting and incentive groups.
Our second day started with a tour of The. Hotel, Brussels, checking out the hotel’s meeting spaces, which are all flooded with natural light, with those on the top floors providing stunning 360-degree views over the Brussels skyline. We learned about what the hotel is doing to become more sustainable, including reducing plastic, food waste and energy consumption. It has reduced food waste by 33% using the Winnow system and has set a Zero Food Waste target for 2025, creates its own electricity using a co-generation system, and is in the process of being certified by BREEAM.
This was followed by a Brussels, green and sustainable e-bike tour of the city with Pro Velo – focusing on sustainable food, green spaces, and green energies, we discovered a series of places and projects (public, private, and in between) that are part of the city’s commitment to a more sustainable future. Lunch was at Wolf – a sharing food market in Brussels offering 19 different food stalls offering cuisine from around the world and two bars – perfect for groups with differing dietary requirements, followed by a walking tour of Brussels to take in the key sights and sample Belgian beer at several local taverns.
Our final dinner was a delicious tasting menu at the Vertige Restaurant, headed by chef Kevin Perlot, who’s ambition is to create sustainable, modern, plant-based gastronomy. Each dish was not only beautifully presented but tasted amazing and it was a fantastic way to end a great day.
In good company
Fam trips are as much about the people you meet and get to know, as they are about experiencing the destination and product, and it was an absolute pleasure to spend 48 hours in the company of this group of UK buyers, along with our wonderful hosts. Everyone was appreciative of the experience and genuinely interested in finding more sustainable options for their company or clients, with many of the buyers saying it’s now a top priority for them.
For UK planners looking for sustainable options for meetings and events, Hotel Republic, The Hotel. Brussels, Eurostar and Visit Brussels are ready to help, and having experienced what they have to offer first hand, I would highly recommend them.