A Dutch tourist campaign has proven successful – in keeping tourists away. The “stay away” message was launched by Amsterdam earlier this year and targeted at a particular type of tourist: rowdy, young, British and male. Now new data shows it’s working, or at least, something is making potential British visitors to the Netherlands decide against a trip.
Global visitors to the Netherlands are down, according to The Times reporting travel industry trends analysts ForwardKeys, who looked into the Netherlands’ arrivals numbers. But UK arrivals are down 22% compared to 2019’s 2.4 million – the year most experts are using as a pre-pandemic benchmark.
The poor results for the second and third quarters, since March 2023, coincide with the airing of the campaign. Rather than highlighting the quaint canals, cutting-edge architecture, museums and port-city hospitality a trip to Amsterdam could offer, the campaign is a negative one. It focuses on the type of visitor attracted by a perception that Dutch culture is permissive. Showing the health dangers of excessive drug and alcohol use, and the risk of incurring financial penalties, being hospitalised, arrested or worse, the footage includes out-of-control drunken young men being taken off the streets in handcuffs, fingerprinted and being subject to mugshots.
Pop-ups prompted by search terms
Not everyone is meant to see the “stay away” videos; they are activated in Britain, by particular search terms, such as “stag party Amsterdam” and “pub crawl Amsterdam”, according to The Independent.
However, greater numbers of would-be visitors to the Dutch capital than intended might be caught in the algorithm’s net with another of the searches that will trigger the pop-ups: “cheap hotel Amsterdam”. It is unclear what might happen if someone who wants a peaceful weekend break searches to find out if Amsterdam is over-run by stag parties. In addition, global users of (VPNs) Virtual Private Networks who connect to UK servers might also see the pop-ups just by searching for a bargain trip to Amsterdam.
Beverley Boden, head of the department for aviation, tourism, finance and marketing at Teesside University International Business School, told The Independent the campaign could become a model for other destinations who are looking to “shift the demographic of who arrives into the country which may, in the end, be better for other kinds of tourists.”
Any dip in visitor numbers can have a traumatic effect on an intricate and interdependent network of operators, hotels, vendors, attractions, and restaurants.Beverley Boden
Nonetheless, as well as potentially reaching the wrong people, Boden also noted how divisive such a marketing campaign can be if handled badly or seen to discourage tourists who may be of “fundamental” importance to a country’s economy. She indicated how fragile and interdependent that sector might be.
The drop in tourist numbers could be compounded by new anti-pollution measures at the city’s Schipol Airport that, if approved by the European Commission, will see 2024’s numbers of flight arrivals capped at 9.5% lower than 2019’s.
But, Amsterdam is probably not worried yet. Despite the reduction in visitors this year data shows it is still one of Europe’s most-visited destinations, attracting 20 million tourists per year, meaning its debate on overtourism is likely to rumble on.