As a former resident of Amsterdam, I’m concerned about overtourism in Amsterdam, which threatens the livability of Amsterdam as house prices skyrocket and many neighborhoods have become overtaken by tourists. Although the city of Amsterdam has enacted new legislation to limit the impacts of tourism, the numbers of tourists visiting the capital of the Netherlands isn’t slowing down.
A marketing campaign that began in 2016 by the Amsterdam Marketing still seeks to bring more tourists to other destinations in the Holland region, a goal shared by many tourists who hope to see the Netherlands beyond Amsterdam. However, in trying to bring tourists to other destinations, the campaign has rebranded nearby towns and attractions (that aren’t part of Amsterdam) as parts of Amsterdam. Does Amsterdam truly value sustainable tourism or does it only wish to push unwanted tourists beyond its city borders?
In case you haven’t read, everywhere is Amsterdam. You can visit the Amsterdam beach aka Zandvoort aan Zee (a cute seaside resort outside of Haarlem), the Amsterdam castle aka Muiderslot (a castle in the town of Muiden), and the Amsterdam tulip fields aka the tulip fields near Lisse. At the rate that the branding has renamed the nearby destinations, everything within 150 kilometers of Amsterdam (which includes most of the Netherlands) will become Amsterdam. I wrote this today as I saw a new tour that hopes to to rename Friesland, a province of the Netherlands over 150 kilometers from Amsterdam with their own language, part of the “Amsterdam Lake District.”
The designation of different locations as part of the Amsterdam area was first thought of by Amsterdam Marketing who felt that this rebranding would help reduce the number of tourists to the city of Amsterdam by spreading them across the rest of the nearby region.
I get it: A lot of people are interested in visiting Amsterdam. It has instant name recognition and some of the most stunning attractions in Holland are outside of Amsterdam, including the tulip fields near Lisse and Zaanse Schans.
It is a well known fact that Amsterdam has more tourists than it can handle and that the behavior of many of the tourists is far from ideal. Most tourists do not want to spend time in an overpacked city center full of bachelor parties.
The reality is that misleading marketing only perpetuates the belief that tourists can’t think for themselves orlook at a map. I like to believe that people will consume the information that you provide them and the best way to teach people to do better is by educating them.
Giving out more information about the diversity of the Holland region is a good start, however many of cities that are an hour from Amsterdam require little marketing as many are famous in their own right. (My favorite day trips from Amsterdam are Leiden, Delft, Gouda, and Rotterdam.)
Although people may visit a place like Zuid Holland based on the perception that it’s part of Amsterdam, starting everything with the word Amsterdam only makes us quickly recall that it’s Amsterdam first, another place second. If the goal is to show tourists that the Netherlands has far more to offer, we need to properly call places by their proper names, even if they’re long and basically unpronounceable in English (like Scheveningen).
By renaming places, we strip them of their identities and their histories. The Netherlands is a fascinating country with twelve distinct provinces, each with their own history and culture. I’ve traveled to every Dutch province and I wish that instead of being reductionist in simplifying things, we value the identities of the cities in the region.
After moving to the Netherlands, I was taught to value ‘bespreekbaarheid’, which can be translated as straightforwardness in English. Simply, we need to be more honest about the impacts of tourism felt by Amsterdam. The city of Amsterdam is waking up to the reality that the dream spun by previous campaigns, promising Amsterdam as a fun destination to let loose, was too effective in bringing tourists ready to get blazed upon arrival.
Tourism in North Holland has resulted in over 30 million overnight stays in 2017 alone, an increase of over 9% from the previous year. That’s an average of 82,191 over stays per night of the year. (Source: Provincie Noord Holland) That’s a lot of tourists in an area that is only 2,670 km².
I’ve certainly felt the impacts of overtourism in Amsterdam as a resident. I’ve been woken up by people going down my street in groups of Segways with a tour guide shouting the history of my former building and had people watching my neighbors as if they were part of a zoo.
I lived on the same block as an Airbnb and tourists would routinely roll their suitcases down the cobblestone street blissfully unaware that my window was single-paned. I applaud the efforts of Amsterdam to cut down on Airbnb to limit the duration to 60 days per year and to collect tourist tax as the housing market must be brought under control.
I also celebrate the efforts to ban the annoying beer bikes, simply a bar in the form of a bike. The city has also banned new tourist-oriented stores opening in the
If destination boards continue to promote Amsterdam as the main destination (even if it’s actually not Amsterdam that is marketed) over the rest of the region, can Amsterdam be saved? I don’t know, however it’s clear that stomping upon the identities of the nearby area will not be enough to stop the tide that is already here.
As Schiphol continues to ground more flights, more tourists will come to Amsterdam and without a better plan to convince tourists to visit the rest of the Netherlands, tourists will continue telling others that they must visit Amsterdam, not remembering the name of the stunning castle that they visited or the beautiful city that they visited just outside of Amsterdam.
Simply, destination marketing must be more conscious about the impact of its marketing campaigns and to make people consider other destinations on their own merits. We must do more to celebrate the rich cultures that make the Netherlands distinctive and to showcase the history in so many Dutch cities.
I’ve become fascinated by Zeeland, Brabant, and Friesland, all provinces with a distinctive cultural identity, their own traditions and holidays, and in many cases, their own dialect. Even within the province of Zuid Holland, Scheveningen has a strong and fascinating cultural identity that has remained despite significant tourism at the seaside resort.
As a travel blogger myself, I can write that it’s easy to fall into the hype machine spun by PR agencies and fellow travel bloggers that only tells the pretty picture of somewhere that is easy to spin for a quick win or one that has name recognition. However, we must do a better job of protecting the places where cultural heritage thrive both inside and outside of the city of Amsterdam.
Instead of dropping off bus loads of tourists who will only have the chance to learn about the culture of a smaller destination during a brief twenty minute visit prior to being whisked away to their next stop, we must encourage slow tourism and teach others that the reality that culture can’t be consumed at a breakneck speed.
I’m not sure what sustainable tourism looks like in the Amsterdam region, but it starts with educating people about overtourism, further controlling the housing market, making more efforts to regulate non-Airbnb vacation housing, teaching people how to respect the residents of a city, showing off the culture/history of places without being reductionist, and calling the towns/cities around Amsterdam by their actual names.
Most importantly, we must teach others the value of slowing down, as we would at home, to enjoy the idyllic canals of many other Dutch cities, slow down to take in culture that isn’t bite-sized for our entertainment, enjoy a museum, and visit a place because we’re legitimately interested in it.