In May, the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC) said in a report, Perspective 2030, that rather than promote more visitation it would focus on managing the tourists it already gets. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke with Antonia Koedijk, the NBTC's North America director, on what this means for the country and its visitors.
Q: Are there any concerns that if tourism growth stops it will hurt the economy?
A: This came about because in the cities where tourists like to travel to we felt that the position of the residents should be protected, based on the fact that there had been such tourism growth and some spots became more crowded than we probably had expected. In Perspective 2030, we do focus on economic growth, but that's not the only thing that's important, because economic growth often goes back to the suppliers, and it's important that the residents also feel that tourism is contributing to their daily life and to their environment.
Q: Did the NBTC make any missteps in its previous marketing that led to the current issues?
A: I don't think it was the wrong message, but it was a little focused on a few areas in the country. Now we are broadening the message. It's not only about Amsterdam. We knew Amsterdam was top of mind and didn't really change the message, because we were successful. But then we experienced growth, and the residents made it known that this wasn't always working. So we realized, 'What are we doing? Perhaps we should put more effort into bringing Rotterdam or Utrecht to their attention.' It took a little time to realize that. And that's going on in other European destinations, as well. It's not that we did anything wrong, but it's good to change our direction, and that's what we have been doing for a number of years. Van Gogh was also active in the south of the country, so why not connect the south with Amsterdam? Rembrandt traveled around the country, so why not connect those places by means of storylines? That's how we started marketing to those other areas. We are gradually seeing results. We see North Americans are now staying overnight also in the Hague and Rotterdam.
Q: In cities plagued by overtourism, a disconnect with authorities is often cited, like decisions about how many cruise ships can dock. Does the Netherlands aim to prevent this?
A: Cities like Barcelona and Venice set an example of how not to deal with the situation, and they sent a strong warning. And we take that very seriously, and we don't want to go that route. The city councils of Amsterdam and Rotterdam are very conscious of what their residents' experience has been and what not to do. They want their residents to live a good life and be happy and not leave the city because they don't feel at home anymore in their own city. Maybe it works to our advantage that we are a small country, so it's a little easier to deal with different groups and to set the right tone.
Q: Can you deliver the best experience for visitors while putting residents first?
A: It is in everyone's interest that cities are not crowded, that we protect our historical buildings because they suffer when places are too crowded, that we share the wealth of tourism and that there is room to interact with locals without locals being annoyed, so to say. And that's a major part of the overall experience of the traveler. That will be taken along in our communication to maintain a livable, lovable and valuable destination, which is our priority for the years to come.