After the hunt for the Paris terrorists, Brussels is trying to gin up tourism following a highly publicized security alert that saw the city occupied by heavy police and images broadcast of “soldiers armed with machine guns” that might have scared away potential tourists.
But officials are optimistic that tourism will return to normal — and they are using a secret weapon to make sure that it does.
The secret weapon? Cats.
Cats became an unofficial mascot of the Brussels lockdown when residents flooded social media with hundreds of kitty pictures this week, after a plea from police not to share information about ongoing raids. Instead of posting updates on where police operations were happening, users tweeted images of cats, including with their paws up, disguised as police snipers and even wearing a bowler hat, the trademark of Rene Magritte, Belgium’s greatest surrealist painter.
“We think some cats will help,” Spokeswoman Inge Van Eycken said.
Van Eycken said Atomium officials are using an altered image of the 1958 World’s Fair structure that replaces the nine distinctive metallic spheres with cat heads, though she stressed they have no plans to import real kitties to the attraction.
Broadcaster VRT reported that the lockdown cost the city 52 million euros ($52 million) a day.
“Even in a bad situation, we can also have some humor in Brussels,” Patrick Bontick, head of Brussels’ tourism office, said. “We’re a surrealistic country,” he said, adding he hoped the cats would provide a “friendly” image of the city.
“We have faced four really difficult days, but now it’s over,” he said. “Life has begun again.”