Keukenhof’s growing pains epitomise the future challenges for Dutch tourism

The Netherlands’ Keukenhof Gardens festival, famous worldwide for its colourful tulip displays, will close for the year this coming weekend on Sunday 19 May.

Despite being open for around eight weeks per year, the gardens are the country’s sixth most-visited attraction for international tourists and the tenth for those of all nationalities. Having first broken the one million annual visitor mark in 2014, 2017 and 2018 both saw Keukenhof draw 1.4 million guests.

The event’s rapid growth has not, however, been without its problems. This year’s particularly warm weather saw the gardens attract 200,000 visitors over the Easter period alone – a 150% year-on-year increase from the 2018 holiday weekends’ total of 80,000. The extra demand led to gridlocked roads throughout the local area and saw the Dutch traffic authorities advise travellers that the site had become “inaccessible” by car. While acknowledging that the gardens are landscaped to accommodate increasing crowd numbers, Keukenhof director Bart Siemerink warned that the current situation is “unacceptable” for local residents and businesses alike.

Addressing the issue of damage to the site caused by ever-larger crowds, the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions has launched a “Better be sure your selfie is tulip-friendly!” campaign, reflecting its wider national strategy for tackling overtourism. Warning that the number of annual inbound visits to the country could rise to 42 million if current growth rates continue, the bureau has published a national Perspective 2030 strategy in which it aims to focus on sustainable destination management, rather than promotion in order to continue to create new jobs while protecting the well-being of the local population.

With 80% of Keukenhof’s guests coming from outside the Netherlands, the destination’s capacity to balance the needs of both visitors and the local community in a sustainable manner will serve as an effective case study for the country’s wider tourism policy in the coming years.