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Experiencing 'The Venice of the North'

Travel all the way to Italy to experience a place with canals instead of roads? Boats instead of cars? A place where the postman delivers the mail by punt (a Dutch type of boat)? Not necessary, since the Netherlands is home to 'Little Venice’: Giethoorn. 


A typical Giethoorn landscape. (Get Your Guide
Giethoorn is a village in the province of Overijssel of only 2620 inhabitants and it is known for its boat-filled waterways which are a true tourist attraction (watch their promotional video here). Who doesn't want to visit a town with its own place on the international version of Monopoly! The village, next to being a huge international (Chinese) tourism hotspot, has a rich history as well. Early settlers in Giethoorn started digging for peat, leaving many holes that filled themselves with water over time, creating lakes and canals of varying sizes. In order to transport the peat from one place to another, the villagers decided to make use of boats. The means of transportation that once used to be a necessity, is now adeptly - or perhaps authentically? - exploited as a tourist attraction.The village’s slogan, ‘Ontdek en beleef Giethoorn!’ ('Discover and experience Giethoorn!'), reflects the consumption of culture through tourist engagement. Obviously, to fully 'discover and experience' Giethoorn, renting a boat for a guided boat tour is a must. "Experience itself has become a commodity" (Jensma) in Giethoorn, but how does this clash with the lived reality of the 'true Giethoorn citizens'? How do their experiences of Giethoorn as an 'authentic' Dutch town differ from that of the tourists?

Tourists in boats enjoying the Giethoorn canals in the Summer (ATP) 
The phenomenon of 'experiential cultural tourism' is not exclusive to Giethoorn. According to Dr. Richard Prentice, former professor of Tourism at the University of Strathclyde, this type of tourism has been around for decades. Originally an elite form, the 1970s saw a shift, or expansion, towards the 'middle classes' of a predominantly Western world. Driven by a curiosity to see how others live, 'or have lived,' and, most importantly, to experience and participate in the 'other' culture (Prentice, 2001). The tourist no longer wants to observe a 'show', or 'view' artefacts but wants to proffer 'authenticity' and undergo the 'non-tourist' tourist experience. Museums, tourism agencies, and heritage sights such as Giethoorn have learned to cater to these needs by promising tourists the chance to 'discover', 'explore,' and uncover the 'mystery' of their authentic sites. Authenticity can be promoted by offering a direct experience, such as a boat tour on the Giethoorn canals, which is "so peaceful, so different and has such simple beauty that it hardly seems real – gently gliding along small canals past old but pretty thatched-roof farmhouses" (Giethoorn Tourism). Yet, also by offering origin stories (the local museum, "'t Olde Maat Uus"), 'learned authenticity' (guided tours!), stretching the harmony between culture and nature, and 'place-branding' ('Venice of the North'). Authenticity is co-created with the individual tourist, who him- or herself judges and defines how 'authentic' the experience ultimately feels (Prentice, 2001).

Multilingual information on renting boats. (NOS/Jikke Westerink
However, despite hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting Giethoorn each year, the Giethoorn community sometimes questions the benefits of the enormous influx of international tourists. A boatman remarked: "Tourists often think that the whole of Giethoorn is an attraction. They often ask me when it closes." Similarly, inhabitants complained of tourists walking around in their backyards; cars blocking emergency services in the case of a fire; and, overall confusion of rules on the water causing near-collisions and tourists getting lost. Yet, the Giethoorn people are accepting of the tourists and try to accommodate as best as they can, for examples by installing a 'Chinese bus station', or the local waiters learning some basic Chinese and adjusting their menu to the taste of tourists. Tours and boats are also fully built to make trips through the town as idyllic and comfortable as possible and translating nearly everything in other languages (NOS, 2017).

In spite of their accommodations and, generally, positive outlook on tourism, the community in Giethoorn is debating whether or not a 'tourist quota', is something that would benefit the 'tourist experience' and the lives of the townspeople. This is in line with the 'experiential tourism experience' dimensions of Richard Prentice, who names "lesser tourists" as a prerequisite for a more authentic experience. Do you think this 'quota' would indeed benefit the overall experience of 'authenticity' in Giethoorn? And, why do you think Giethoorn is so attractive for international tourists? In other words, what makes Giethoorn the 'Litte Venice' of the North?

BY: MD, AD, NH, TB.

Sources:

Get Your Guide. "Giethoorn Tour en gratis 1-uurs Amsterdam Canal Cruise" Getyourguide.com. https://www.getyourguide.nl/amsterdam-l36/from-amsterdam-full-day-giethoorn-dutch-venice-tour-t81846/?utm_force=0. Accessed 13 March 2018.

"Giethoorn" Giethoorn Tourism. https://giethoorntourism.com/. Accessed 13 March 2018.

Jensma, Goffe: "Remystifying Frisia. Experience Economy along the Waddensea Coast."

NOS. "Giethoorn in wereldeditie Monopoly." NOS.nl. News article. (19 March 2015). https://nos.nl/op3/artikel/2025678-giethoorn-in-wereldeditie-monopoly.html. Accessed 12 March 2018.

Museum Giethoorn. "'t Olde Maat Uus". Museum Giethoorn. Website. http://www.museumgiethoorn.nl/. Accessed 13 March 2018.

Prentice, Richard. "Experiential Cultural Tourism: Museums & the Marketing of the New Romanticism of Evoked Authenticity" in Museum Management and Curatorship 19, no. 1 (2001): 5-26.

Westerink, Jikke. "Giethoorn worstelt met toerisme: soms staat op elk grassprietje een auto." NOS.nl. News article. (7 June 2017). https://nos.nl/artikel/2177067-giethoorn-worstelt-met-toerisme-soms-staat-op-elk-grassprietje-een-auto.html. Accessed 12 March 2018.

Comments

  1. I have personally never visit Giethoorn or heard a Dutch person talk about it. This shows the lack of intrest of native people of this cultural heritage and partly natural heritage.
    What is important to answer your first question is to know what tourist would like to experience. Will having less tourist at the same time change their experience of Giethoorn? I do not think so, the things are still the same.
    Why did giethoorn get so popular and named little venice? Marketing

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  2. Great blog post! I like that you guys used a Dutch tourist attraction that is not really that popular by the Dutch themselves, but rather by (non-European) tourists like the Chinese. I have been to Giethoorn previous times when I was younger, but I have never paid any thought to the people actually living there and what their experience is living in the middle of a tourist destination. It is some kind of an eye-opener to read that the inhabitants are questioning the influx of tourism. I think a tourist quota would indeed benefit the authenticity of the experience in the way that tourists would be more likely to understand that Giethoorn is still a 'normal' town that has its own inhabitants, and is not some kind of open air museum. At the same time, the townspeople will experience more privacy. I could not imagine wanting to sit in my backyard while having to wave at 20 people per minute that are floating by in large tour boats.

    I think Giethoorn has become a popular international tourist spot due to its reputation as the ‘Dutch Venice’ and the way it has branded itself. I actually found a very popular Chinese documentary called 'Ni Hao Holland,' of which the presenter lives in Beijing but dreams of moving to Giethoorn. This could be one explanation of the amount of Chinese tourists coming to the town. Also, of course, the Chinese-speaking guides and Chinese signs contribute to maintain the stream of tourists visiting each year.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post! I like how you look at the village from different perspectives (e.g. the tourists or the villagers themselves). I think that a quota for the tourists would not change the authenticity of the village. Of course, the idea of Giethoorn being an attraction might diminish and create a somewhat more authentic notion to village, while in fact nothing actually changes. It's also actually quite remarkable that many tourists come to the village, while many Dutch people have never been, but I think that goes for a lot of tourist attractions. I think that Giethoorn's advertising is also pointed more at the tourists than at the locals, leaving it unnoticed for many Dutch people.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think it's nice that you chose Giethoorn as a subject, it suits the topic of the week very well. I have been to Giethoorn a few times when I was younger, and I didn't know at the time that people were really living in these houses, I only learned about that later on. This has to do with the way Giethoorn branded itself back then, and I think this is also the reason that so many tourists are visiting Giethoorn. They wanted to show the world how they live and how beautiful it is, but this turned out to be in their own disadvantage. I think a quota is much needed, if you want to keep Giethoorn as it is now, otherwise the authenticity will disappear in the future and the whole town would be build on tourism.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very nice and clear blogpost and the pictures really add to the story. It is interesting how Giethoorn has become such a tourist attraction while the Dutch do not really seem to care about it much. I think a quota would be a good solution, however I think due to former choices and branding Giethoorn has become the attraction it is now and it seems to me that would be hard to change. I think most tourists are not aware it is actually a village and I think that should be made very clear to everyone as tourism should not be a burden for the locals.

    DvdK

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  6. In my opinion, a tourist quota would not really benefit the overall experience of authenticity in Giethoorn. On the one hand, a limited number of visitors would lead to less disturbance of the town life. On the other hand, I think it is not as much a question of number as of respect. I think tourists are attracted to the idyllic atmosphere of the place. However, this can only be upheld if they themselves acknowledge/are taught that they are partly responsible for keeping it that way.
    JG

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  7. Thanks for writing this blogpost! Giethoorn is a beautiful place :) About the quotum for the amount of tourists, I have actually been in giethoorn and I guess a quotum is more for the inhabitants. Since people actually live in the houses it would be really busy/loud and maybe quite annoying for the inhabitants of Giethoorn if there are too many people there. Maybe if it is more quiet this adds to the experience of the tourists as well - that it is more 'authentic' as you might call it. I also think the chinese tourism market is a completely different one than for example dutch tourism within the netherlands, and that eventually it comes down to somewhat of a choice between the two, and that's why maybe other comments note that it is more popular among Chinese tourism than among Dutch tourists. Thank you!

    EMvG

    ReplyDelete

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