Its elegant canals, brightly-coloured tulip fields and world-class museums attract millions of tourists a year, but the Netherlands has decided that enough is enough.
In the latest revolt against the over-tourism that is crushing the life out of popular destinations, from Venice and Santorini to Thailand and Kyoto, the Dutch government is to switch from encouraging tourism to managing the visitor numbers that it already has.
The country’s tourism board is to move from “destination promotion” to “destination management”, as locals complain that tourist hordes are putting too much strain on resources and ruining the very attractions that they have come to see.
“To control visitor flow and leverage the opportunities that tourism brings with it, we must act now. Instead of destination promotion, it is now time for destination management,” the tourist board said in a strategy document which addresses the challenges to be faced between now and 2030.
The number of tourists visiting the Netherlands is expected to grow by 50 per cent in the next decade, from 19 million to 29 million, the document predicts.
The tourism board wants to divert visitors away from saturated parts of the country, such as Amsterdam, towards lesser-known attractions.
“Many other regions should also profit from the expected growth in tourism and we will stimulate new offerings,” a spokeswoman for the tourism board told De Telegraaf newspaper.
During Easter, areas of the country famous for their tulip fields and windmills were overwhelmed by the number of visitors, with roads congested by traffic and authorities asking tourists not to trample on the flowers.
Around one million foreign tourists flocked to the Netherlands over the holiday period, while 350,000 locals also went away on day trips.
“For the people and entrepreneurs who live here the situation has become completely unacceptable,” said Bart Siemerink, the director of the Keukenhof garden, southwest of Amsterdam, where seven million flower bulbs are planted each year. “We cannot remember a year when so many people came to the park.”
The World Heritage-listed windmills of the Kinderdijk region, near Rotterdam, were also inundated by visitors, with so many cars arriving that parking was impossible.
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The area’s 19 windmills, surrounded by dykes and fields, are among the most photographed attractions in the country. Following the global financial crisis of 2008, Amsterdam and other parts of the country invested heavily in tourism.
The policy was so successful that the number of tourists soared from 11 million in 2005 to 18 million in 2016.
The Netherlands joins a long list of destinations that are buckling under the pressure of too many tourists, including Barcelona, Dubrovnik in Croatia, the medieval town of Kotor in Montenegro and the Cinque Terre coastline of Liguria in northern Italy.