Tourism and recreation in relation to the human environment

Expected mid-2019

Background and explanation

In the 2010-2015 period, the importance of tourism to the Dutch economy has increased (source: Statistics Netherlands (CBS) report on trends in tourism). The contribution to gross added value made by this sector grew from 3 to 3.8 percent. Every year, tourism and recreation account for approx. EUR 72.7 billion in spending in our country. The hospitality sector provides employment and income to approx. 626,000 people or 6.3% of the total workforce (source: Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions).

The tourism and recreation sector benefits from a high-quality human environment. Attractive cities, areas of high natural value and distinctive landscapes potentially attract domestic and foreign tourists. This also means that investments to make an area more attractive to tourists and recreational visitors may also enhance the quality of the human environment. On the other hand, pressure resulting from the growing tourism and recreation sector may have negative effects on environmental quality.

It appears that there are differences in this respect between urban and rural areas. In urban environments, issues like (internal) accessibility, nuisance, and tensions between local residents and tourists (liveability) play a role. One topical example is the large influx of tourists in Amsterdam. This is not a new phenomenon: cities like Venice and Barcelona have faced similar problems. In more rural areas, there may be tensions (or, conversely, synergies) between the tourism and recreation sector on the one hand and agriculture and nature conservation on the other. The picturesque town of Giethoorn (‘Little Venice’) is a frequently cited example of such tensions. On the other hand, tourism and recreation also create opportunities for new earning models in the agricultural sector in certain regions. There are also differences between areas with high urbanization pressure and regions affected by population decline. In the latter regions, tourism and recreation may increase the vitality of towns and cities and make a welcome contribution to the regional economy.

Tourism policy is traditionally aimed at attracting tourists and creating more facilities and services for them. For instance, the World-Class National Parks programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality is working at the national level to strengthen the (international) market position of national parks in the Netherlands. However, there is no coherent national vision on synergies between environmental quality and the tourism and recreation sector that addresses urban and rural areas, as well as growth regions and those affected by population decline. Tourism and recreation offers interesting perspectives for the Council’s advisory work, on account of the ongoing steady growth of this sector and the resulting increasing burden on the human environment.

Tourists in Madurodam at the Binnenhof

Possible questions to be addressed

  • How can cities and the countryside be developed for tourism and recreation purposes in a complementary manner, and in such a way that opportunities are optimally utilised while reducing any negative impact on the human environment? What roles should the central government and provincial and municipal authorities have in this?
  • How can investments in tourism and recreation contribute to the quality of the human environment and nature conservation and development? Which alliances between stakeholders are possible or necessary, and at which level of scale should such alliances be created? What role can the central government play in this respect?
  • Which instruments can be used to balance the revenue and societal costs of tourism and recreation without jeopardising the regional economic interests of the tourism and recreation sector?
  • How can tourism and recreation be made more sustainable in view of the environmental impact of this sector?


This report is expected to be published in mid-2019.

Composition of advisory committee

M. Demmers MBA, committee chair
J. Kok

The Council still needs to decide on the appointment of external committee members. Once a decision has been taken, it will be announced on this website.


Information or response: 

For more information or to respond, please contact project leader Douwe Wielenga by e-mail at