The tulips are being trampled, the people of Amsterdam squeezed out of their canal-side homes and the Netherlands’ most picturesque villages, famous for their windmills, swamped.
Now, with as many as 42 million people forecast to visit the country annually by 2030, up from 18 million in 2018, the Netherlands tourist board has had enough.
In a major shift, the board is moving its focus from promoting the country as a tourist destination to trying to manage the huge numbers coming in by plane, train and automobile.
A country of 17 million people can have too much of a good thing, it is suggested.
“We say that ‘more’ is not always better, certainly not everywhere,” a tourist board policy document states. “To be able to control visitor flows, we must take action now. Instead of destination promotion it’s time for destination management.”
Such is the nuisance factor of some tourists in parts of the Netherlands that the tourist board is even encouraging regions to take up a policy of “develop and discourage”.
A document laying out the strategy suggests this might require actively dissuading people from visiting certain areas through means such as closing down disreputable attractions to imposing a tourist tax. The standard of life of some of the country’s residents is said to be coming under pressure.
“Tourism is not a goal, in this perspective,” a spokeswoman for the tourist board said of the strategy, which was devised at the end of last year but has hit the headlines in Holland due to recent budget negotiations with the Dutch government.
“Some cities and regions are very busy – cities such as Amsterdam or areas such as Giethoorn, a small village with a lot of windmills and farmers – and there are a lot of Chinese tourists that are very interested in that village,” the spokeswoman said.
“A few years ago the entrepreneurs were focused on getting more people in the village but now inhabitants are saying it is cool that people are coming here as it is good for the local economy but it looks like a museum at the moment rather than a tourist attraction.”
Giethoorn, a village of 2,500 people that is usually explored by boat through its network of small canals, is visited by an estimated 350,000 Chinese tourists every year.
The spokeswoman added that the strategy did not preclude promotion of those areas in desperate need of tourists in the north of the country. “We do promotion – but not for our capital,” she said.
Amsterdam, home to 1.1 million people, attracts more than 17 million visitors a year when including day-trippers and Dutch locals.
But, in a sign that the problem is not getting people into the city but managing the crowds, the city’s Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum are breaking from attending a major US travel convention at the end of the year.
In a symbolic move last year, an enormous sculpture spelling out “Iamsterdam” was also removed from the square in front of the Rijksmuseum.
The local municipality is also seeking to halt the growth of hotels, souvenir shops, ticket sales outlets and cheese shops. Schiphol airport’s capacity is to be capped and passenger vessels are to be moved out of the city’s centre.
Tourism earns the Dutch economy €82bn (£70bn) and in 2018 accounted for about 761,000 jobs – one in 13 jobs in the Netherlands – but there is also concern over the environmental cost.
The tourist board in the bulb region of the Netherlands has had to start fencing in fields of tulips due to damage created by the scourge of selfie-seeking tourists.
The Dutch government’s ability to keep to its climate change pledges if the rate of growth in numbers continues is also in doubt.
Should 42 million people visit in 2030, the target of reducing CO2 emissions by 49% in 2030 compared with 2017 would likely not be met, the tourist board has warned.
“In addition to emissions, the growing number of visitors also ensures more consumption, possible food waste and pollution by (stray) waste,” the board’s document says. “Moreover, crowded destinations leads to harm to nature.”
Europeans remain the most likely to visit the Netherlands, with Germans and Belgians making up 42% of all tourists.
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