Edition 30 September, by Lorre Luther
Tourism is hot in the Netherlands right now, just ask any resident of Amsterdam. From North Holland to Limburg, visitors flocked to the country in record numbers in 2017, and they spent plenty of money while they were here. According to the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS), tourism overall increased last year by 11 percent, with more than 42 million visitors booking rooms in Dutch hotels, guesthouses, hostels and bed and breakfasts. Those travelers pumped plenty of euros into Dutch businesses. Tourism and travel-related activities contributed € 82.1 billion to the national economy last year, an increase of 6.9 percent from the year before. Foreign spending made up at least three-quarters of that growth.
The surge in the number of visits and income was mostly caused by a rise in tourists from outside the Netherlands. The number of travelers from other countries increased by 13 percent last year to 17.8 million. Foreign holidaymakers spent 44 million nights in Dutch accommodations, 11.5 percent more than in 2016. These numbers exclude stays arranged through platforms like Airbnb. The influx of tourists is unlikely to end any time soon, according to Jos Vranken, head of the Dutch Tourism Office (NBTC). He estimates the number of foreign visitors will continue to increase and will reach 20 million two years from now.
Most foreign travelers, close to 80 percent, hailed from Europe, with the majority coming from three nations: Germany, the United Kingdom and Belgium. Tourists from these countries booked 64 percent of all foreigners’ overnight stays. German tourism to the Netherlands rose substantially last year, with 665,000 more visitors crossing the border than in 2016, an increase of more than 14 percent. Germans constituted 25 percent of foreign visitors last year. Most hailed from the state of North Rhine- Westphalia and made the journey by car. The average German visitor spent € 442 during their visit, and German vacationers as a whole contributed around € 2 billion to the Dutch economy, enough to support 16,000 jobs in the tourist industry.
The number of visitors from other continents also grew in 2017. Tourists from places other than Europe made up 20% of last year’s travelers. The majority of non-European travelers came from North America and Asia. The number of visitors from North America grew by 22 percent, while 25 percent more Asians visited the Netherlands. There was a large surge in the number of Chinese tourists, with 26 percent more individuals from the most populous country on earth visiting the Netherlands. Overall numbers of Chinese visitors remained small – approximately 2 percent of all tourists last year. Citizens of three nations, Taiwan, Iceland and Russia, began heading to the Netherlands more frequently last year. There were 79 percent more tourists from Taiwan than in 2016, while visitor numbers from Iceland and Russia increased by 40 and 36 percent respectively.
The largest group of foreign tourists, 37 percent, spent the majority of their time in Amsterdam. The city welcomed the overall highest number of non-Dutch tourists and hosted a total of 6 million visitors. The capital proved particularly attractive to non- European visitors and vacationers from the United Kingdom. According to CBS chief economist Peter Hein van Mulligen, “The arrival of tourism is growing the most in Amsterdam.” Amsterdam was not the only location that experienced increased tourist attention. Cities like Utrecht, Rotterdam and Maastricht also saw upticks in visits. German visitors often headed to Dutch beaches, while Belgian travelers chose cycling holidays and leisurely jaunts closer to home in Limburg and North Brabant.
Spending on tourism-related activities grew along with the number of visitors. While expenditures by Dutch tourists accounted for most of the travel-related spending, purchases made by foreign visitors largely fueled the increase. Dutch vacationers spent € 43 billion on tourism-related activities; for tourists from other destinations the spend was € 29.9 billion. Dutch spending rose 3.6 percent last year, but foreign spending rose by 12.6 percent. Tourism also had a positive impact on the Dutch job market. The sector supported 761,000 mostly parttime jobs, an increase of 3.8 percent from 2016. The industry was responsible for 4.3 percent of the Dutch economy and 7.5 percent of all jobs nationwide.
The economic benefits of more tourism have come at great cost for heavily visited areas. Residents of must-see destinations continue to experience an erosion in their quality of life as a result of mass tourism. Amsterdam struggles enormously with tourism-related issues, including overcrowding in and around popular attractions, anti-social bicycle antics and outright unruly behavior. Many of the city’s residents have begun to sour on tourism, despite the industry’s economic benefits. Amsterdam has taken several steps to address residents’ concerns. It implemented rules to reign in the use of private homes as accommodation through sites like Airbnb and banned beer bikes and other nuisancecausing vehicles from streets and canals. It invested in a marketing campaign, Project Enjoy & Respect, to encourage visitors to behave with more civility towards the city and its residents. These campaigns specifically targeted the likeliest offenders, men between the ages of 18 and 34 from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The city also put up posters in popular tourist destinations like the Red Light District in order to remind visitors of the unpleasant consequences of inappropriate conduct.
According to Vranken, limiting the impact of mass tourism in Amsterdam requires a reduction in the number of travelers who visit the city and a more even distribution of vacationers around the country. The NBTC therefore has created the HollandCity campaign to encourage visitors to explore and stay in places other than Amsterdam. It markets the Netherlands as one large metropolis, and emphasizes the close distances and ease of traveling between major Dutch cities.
But more may be needed to adequately address the problem, according to tourism experts. “Just marketing is no longer enough. A national fund is needed, in cooperation with all parties involved. It is important to better manage and control tourist flows,” argues Vranken. The Dutch government is currently considering ways to work with provinces and cities to manage the equal distribution of visitors and spread the economic opportunities created by tourism more evenly throughout the country.