Country Snapshot: Belgium

Marc Jarrett
I guess the catalyst for this particular country snapshot was a rather unflattering thread that was recently posted on GFY entitled: What the hell is the point of Belgium?

As I write, the thread itself has drawn no conclusions, but instead had several references to chocolate, beer, waffles and Jean Claude Van Damme. Thus far, no-one has pointed out that Belgium is in fact a founding member of the European Union and hosts its headquarters in its capital city of Brussels; as well as those of other major international organisations, including NATO.

Not that this instils any patriotism. I vaguely recall in a survey conducted a while back that something like seven out of ten Belgian youth wished they were a different nationality. And after having driven through it on countless occasions, I can concur: Belgium does seem to be spectacularly unspectacular. But, hey, it's not all bad: it's the only country in the world to have a fully lit freeway road network at night.

Belgium has a population of some 10.5m people; just over half of which have access to the Internet at this time.

Since the country is bilingual, you will need to communicate with these surfers in two languages, not just one, if Belgium is to be features as part of your globalization strategy.

Belgium's two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north, with just over half of the population; and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia. The Brussels region, although officially bilingual, is mostly French-speaking.

With this in mind, Password by Phone serves both French and Dutch language texts to Belgium surfers and as with all countries, offers a 'revert to English' feature to capture any expatriates or businessmen visiting there.

Phone billing remains a popular way for Belgians to pay for web content, thanks in large part to the ease, convenience and anonymity of this "buy now, pay later" payment method.

As for credit and debit cards, the adoption of Maestro in Belgium is expected to increase transaction opportunities within Belgium for both consumers and merchants. Two operators, Visa and MasterCard (under the Maestro brand), continue to account for the majority of transactions across all sectors of the industry.

The number of financial cards has increased tremendously over the past two to three years in Belgium, reaching an all-time high in 2007. As most credit and debit cards are directly linked to a bank account, the major financial institutions benefit from the acquisition fees on all transactions; and these cards have become a prosperous revenue stream for the banking industry.

By offering both telephone and debit card billing in Dutch and en français you will be able to maximise your revenues from this small but relatively rich country.