Brussels, the capital of Belgium and a key center for European politics, had a hard year. The city has been at the center of a number of terror plots and in recent months has faced terror alerts, lockdowns and raids. In addition to the immediate crisis, the city is facing an economic downturn. A November lockdown in Brussels cost Belgium 0.1 percent of the gross domestic product for the quarter, the Wall Street Journal reports, and the number of visitors to the city remains low.
In a bid to dispel the city's new image as a breeding ground for terrorism, the Brussels tourist board has hit upon a new idea: Curious foreigners can now call the city to talk to local people.
The #CallBrussels project has set up a number of high-profile telephones around the city, including one in Molenbeek, the neighborhood that has become internationally notorious for its links to various plots. Until Monday, anyone can visit the #CallBrussels website, click on a button, and wait for someone to pick up. What happens next is up to you, but Brussels tourist board hopes that callers can have a discussion about the merits of Brussels that will put the terror concerns into context.
"The people of Brussels are proud of their Region and are no doubt eager to re-establish the truth regarding the situation in Brussels," Brussels tourist board said in a statement. "Through this action, visit.brussels gives them the possibility of expressing themselves on the topic and of revitalizing the economic life of Brussels by persuading tourists not to cancel their trip to the city."
WorldViews spent some time on the service on Friday. While it worked well, it seemed to be a bit too popular – it was difficult to get through to anyone in Brussels and a time lag on the accompanying video made it difficult to know when the phones were free. However, we did get through to a couple of people – one local and one tourist – who both said that they had little concern about safety in the city and that more tourists should visit.
Via the video, we could see the phones were constantly in use on a Friday evening in Brussels and people appeared to be having remarkably in-depth conversations – in Molenbeek, a precocious-looking group of basketball-carrying children spent around 20 minutes in chatting to people and seemed to have little intention of leaving anytime soon.
You can try it for yourself here. The lines are open between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time until Monday.
More on WorldViews