When your destination is considered the ultimate hotbed of overtourism, what do you do to reduce crowding? For Amsterdam, the answer lies in luxury.
When your city is a poster child for overtourism, do you reduce your marketing efforts, or do you try to attract a different type of traveler? For Amsterdam, the answer is to seek out high-end visitors, those who tend to take in the city’s more esoteric attractions while spending more money and staying longer.
Back in 2013, when the term overtourism was beginning to rear its ugly head, the city of Amsterdam decided to consolidate its various marketing agencies under one umbrella. Amsterdam & Partners thus became the official marketing and branding organization for the city and surroundings.
“It was established with the goal of creating a better reputation for the city,” Nico Mulder, marketing strategist for the organization, said.
The public-private partnership receives one-third of its budget from the city and the rest from its 1,000-plus partners. The organization not only serves to promote leisure and meetings and conference tourism but also works to bring in business and enhance the quality of life for inhabitants.
From the beginning, the organization has downplayed attractions like the Red Light District and the so-called coffeeshops, as “these were not the type of Amsterdam products we wanted to put out there,” Mulder said.
“[By 2016] we saw that there were more concerns rising up about overtourism; inhabitants complaining about some type of visitor causing nuisance. So we started focusing not on attracting more visitors but the right type of visitor. Those that would stay longer, have cultural interests, visit the city for the city itself, and not just to be coming in for a one-night bachelor party, for instance,” he said.
The Shift to ‘Quality Travelers’
The Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC) Holland Marketing calls such folk “quality travelers.”
“Quality travelers are looking for in-depth, immersive experiences. [They are] well-traveled and like to look behind the scenes and connect with the locals. [We think] focusing on this group will get locals excited about welcoming travelers, as opposed to being concerned about the number of tourists,” said Antonia Koedijk, head of the NBTC Holland Marketing’s North America office.
Luxury Amsterdam stemmed from the same seed. The idea was to group together luxury destinations and experiences within the city, including hotels, restaurants, high-end shops, museums, and diamond factories. In 2017, 14 luxury partners agreed to come on board, investing in the project for a three-year period. While the criteria for membership was subjective, Mulder says Amsterdam & Partners was looking for tourism-related companies offering “an Amsterdam approach and Amsterdam DNA…that is, a spirit of commerce, creativity, and innovation.”
Phase one has consisted of “getting the basics aligned for our partners. We developed an overview of all the things the luxury traveler can do here. We started connecting the dots within the city and developing content for luxury partners to attract visitors from foreign market,” Mulder said.
High-End Content Marketing
To help promote itself, the group publishes Amsterdam Luxury Magazine, a glossy featuring members and related high-end attractions and themes.
Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam was one of the group’s founding partners. Kees Hogotoorn, director of sales and marketing, believes strength in numbers has been key to getting the initiative off the ground.
“We are a united front. As a collective, you can claim focus and move things forward. It has also improved the cooperation among hotels, museums, shops, and all things luxury, as we as a group know each other well,” he said, pointing out that all of the partners had embraced the project to date.
The next phase of Luxury Amsterdam, should it receive continued funding — which will be decided this fall — will be developing more content to distribute to foreign luxury platforms, primarily in the United States.
“There’s a very good match between U.S. luxury travelers and what we have to offer. Especially compared to Asia, we find that American visitors have more cultural interests. Our research showed that the performing arts [is] matching that need, along with museums,” Mulder said.
As Luxury Amsterdam grows, wither overtourism? “I don’t see it as a cure-all for overtourism,” Mulder said, “but as a way to expand the image of the city. We’ve come a long way from being known as Europe’s sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll capital. Still, our main challenge is to continue to step out of that previous image and focus more on culture, quality, and luxury.”
Photo credit: Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam. The hotel is part of Amsterdam's luxury initiative to attract high-end travelers as a measure to counter overtourism. Accor