Written by Iliana Magra
Straining under the weight of the millions of tourists who visit every year, the Netherlands has decided to stop promoting its most famous attractions in favour of trying to encourage travelers to go to the country’s lesser-known destinations.
In some ways, the Netherlands is a victim of its own success: Government campaigns to attract visitors have been so fruitful that the hordes have caused problems in places such as the capital, Amsterdam, which receives an asphyxiating 19 million tourists per year.
A report by the Dutch tourism board summed up the problem: “More isn’t always, and certainly not everywhere, better,” the study said. By 2030, the Netherlands could see an influx of up to 42 million tourists, the report predicted — a gargantuan number for a country of around 17 million. The change in policy was introduced in October, but it made headlines only after an article this year in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.
Elsje van Vuuren, a spokeswoman for the board, said marketing campaigns would now have a different focus.
“We do promotion, but that is only for the regions and the cities that are not well known abroad,” she said by phone Tuesday.
Amsterdam, with its iconic canals, myriad museums and cultural attractions — plus the draw of the red-light district and the looser regulations on cannabis use — has gained huge popularity as a relatively low-cost, versatile destination.
The city has already taken some steps to manage the influx: The authorities announced in March that guided tours of the red-light district would be banned and that an additional tax on other tours of the capital would be introduced.
Those measures followed moves brought in last year by the administration of Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema, to tackle bad behavior. Those actions included bolstering street-cleaning efforts; collecting on-the-spot fines of up to 140 euros ( $160) for public urination, drunkenness or excessive noise; and starting a campaign to persuade visitors to respect the city and its rules.
Other Dutch attractions have also come under siege. The famous tulip fields have suffered from swarms of tourists seeking the perfect profile photograph.
Concerned that visitors were trampling the flowers and damaging fields, the tourism board released a guide of dos and don’ts for taking selfies.
“It is incredibly tempting, of course, to walk into a tulip field and shoot a picture in the sea of wonderful flowers,” the board said. “But did you know that every year, flower growers suffer hundreds of thousands of euros’ worth of damage due to people wading through their flower fields?”
During the Easter weekend last month, Keukenhof, one of the world’s largest flower gardens, in Lisse, about 25 miles southwest of Amsterdam, had more than 200,000 visitors in four days, the attraction said in a statement. Eighty percent of them came from abroad.
The traffic was so bad that officials asked citizens to stay home, news outlets reported. “This situation is unacceptable for residents and local businesses,” Bart Siemerink, the director of the garden, told the newspaper Het Parool.
By contrast, other parts of the Netherlands, such as the province of Zeeland or cities like Groningen, are relatively overlooked.
Van Vuuren said highlighting the sights in those places was the board’s priority. “The promotion has a different purpose now,” she said, “which is stimulating other visitors to visit other places at other times.”
Although overtourism is rare, the Netherlands is not the only destination in Europe that has struggled with it. Venice has grappled with the problem for years, while the Greek island of Santorini has also buckled from the crushing number of visitors.
Some blame the rise of cheap booking sites such as Airbnb for exacerbating the issue. The Spanish city of Barcelona has been cracking down on unlicensed listings, and in Paris, hosts cannot rent out their properties for more than 120 days a year.
Airbnb has defended its role. The company said in a statement last year that it accounted “for just 7 percent of guest arrivals in the world’s most popular destinations at risk of overtourism.”