Ameland, a small island in the Netherlands, has flourished thanks to tourism for years. nonetheless, islanders are now concerned that there may no longer be room for expansion and that family businesses will be taken over by large multinationals. The fear is that new entrepreneurs who are keen to capitalise on the current popularity may not understand the values of the island well enough. Richard Kiewiet, a nature manager on Ameland and mudflat walking guide for forty years, explains that there is now a social debate going on about the issue on the island. Many entrepreneurs are in agreement that the limit has now been reached, as the influx of visitors has caused problems such as social exclusion.
For years, Ameland flourished thanks to tourism, but the limit has now been reached, according to islanders. The fear is, among other things, that family businesses will be taken over by large multinationals. “There is now a broad social discussion going on on the island, and I think most people agree that it is so positive,” says Amelander Richard Kiewiet in State of the Netherlands: Generation Next. “More is not always positive.”
Because it was hardly possible to travel abroad for two years due to corona measures, the Wadden Islands saw a huge increase in the number of visitors. As a result, according to islanders, many people have also come who do not know the values of the island well. And of course new entrepreneurs who want to capitalize on this popularity.
Richard was nature manager on Ameland and mudflat walking guide for forty years. “A lot has changed in my generation. I have seen the first tourist arrive here in the car,” he says. “It took us sixty years to make Ameland what it is today. We have done our utmost for that. Now it is time to be careful not to sell things to the multinationals.”
He continues: “Our ancestors put their heads together and decided that the poor soils could not be used for livestock after all. That’s why they turned it into camping grounds. These have become corporations, which distribute their profits to the villagers at the end of the year.” But some larger companies don’t understand these norms and values, says Richard. “Then suddenly a large group comes along and the price goes up by 30 percent. The profit goes to the other side of the water,” he explains. “We have just learned here over the past hundreds of years to take care of ourselves.”
In the first ten years after the war, poverty reigned on the island. “A number of my uncles and aunts therefore went to the mainland, to Amsterdam, to try their luck,” says Richard. “When they look back fifty years later, and they come back here, they see that they made a mistake. Because it has evolved here.” And that development is largely due to tourism. “We have done a lot to ensure that this runs smoothly,” he emphasizes. “You used to come to the Wadden Islands for two or three weeks, and nowadays you come for a weekend or a midweek. And everyone wants to go to ‘t Oerd and to the lighthouse at the same time on their electric bicycle. So there is a lot more movement.”
All of this must be facilitated, and preferably by small corporations and family businesses “that keep their own pants”, according to Richard. “The trick is to protect it now and not go over the top, and still keep it in our own hands.”
‘The limit has been reached’
It is not surprising that a nature manager wants to limit tourism, but many entrepreneurs also agree with him. So is Alexander Kiewiet. “It’s a balance. Of course we also live here as islanders, and I notice that the limit has now been reached a bit,” he says. “It is said that it is getting too busy, and people are getting annoyed on the street. This is mainly centered in the village centres.”
Alexander was born into entrepreneurship: his parents own a hotel and his grandfather owned a restaurant. Moreover, he is also a real Amelander. “My father is a Kiewiet, and my mother a Metz. Those are the two big families here on the island.”
He runs a beach bar himself and organizes activities. Sustainability is high on his list of priorities. “We live here in a beautiful nature area, and I would also like it if my children could live here later. So we try to take this into account in our business operations. The beach tent is completely self-sufficient: we have solar panels on the roof and collect our own rainwater. In the restaurant we work with local products as much as possible.”
Island resident Gunda Brunotte used to come to the island as a tourist himself. That is how she met wildlife manager Richard, whom she eventually married. She now rents out 150 holiday homes and is chair of the entrepreneurial platform on Ameland. She thinks it is important that entrepreneurs and nature organizations continue to talk to each other about tourism on the island. “Entrepreneurs will say that the entrepreneur and therefore the tourist are the most important thing. A nature organization says that everything must give way to nature. I think it is important that those two parties talk to each other and look for solutions,” says Gunda. “We sell a piece of nature, and that’s what visitors come for. So if we totally lock that somehow I think we’re going backwards.”
In any case, Alexander thinks that the ceiling has been reached. “You also have to set up your company for that: it doesn’t have to get bigger and bigger,” he says. “I think it is also important that you do this together as one party, so that all entrepreneurs follow the same line and have the same vision. A large part shares my opinion, but there are also a few parties that want more and more. I am not entirely behind that.”
That’s what Gunda says too. “Every entrepreneur must decide for himself what he or she wants, but in the longer term that entrepreneur will be socially excluded.”
Looking for peace, space and nature during the holidays or a free weekend: it is popular. But how do you, as a destination, maintain the balance between sustainability and tourism? Elif Isitman takes the ferry to Ameland and looks for the answer to that question. Watch this episode now NPO Start.
Huge increase in tourism on the Wadden Islands, growth of more than 20 percent
By: Marinka Wagemans
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