Tourism in relation to the human environment

Expected date of publication: third quarter of 2019

Background and explanation

The global tourism and recreation sector is experiencing strong growth, and is expected to double in size in the period from 2010 to 2030 (World Tourism Organization, 2011). Experts expect that this growth projection will be too low for the Netherlands, where the tourism sector already accounts for 72 billion euro in annual consumer spending, represents 3.9% of GDP and provides employment to 641,000 workers (Statistics Netherlands, 2018).

Tourists in Madurodam at the Binnenhof
Richard van Elferen / Mediatheek

Striking a balance between tourism and the human environment

Tourism is closely linked to the quality of the human environment: few people will be inclined to visit an unappealing location. In turn, tourists generate revenues that help support the management and maintenance of cultural heritage sites, the natural environment, etc. They also help improve the quality of life for local residents by creating a demand for services and facilities (shops, museums and catering establishments in both urban and rural regions), providing employment opportunities, and generating income for entrepreneurs.

However, tourism also has negative effects on towns, cities and regions. The sector can have a considerable impact on the human environment, for instance in the form of peak visitor periods, noise nuisance, public drunkenness, a limited range of shops, drug dealing, and rising house prices. In the Netherlands, such problems occur not only in Amsterdam (as frequently reported in the media), but also in coastal towns like Noordwijk, Zandvoort and Renesse and in tourist hotspots such as Giethoorn, Kinderdijk, Lisse (Keukenhof flower garden) and Valkenburg. In addition to the location-specific burden on the human environment, the global environmental impact must also be taken into account. The tourism sector accounts for 8% of global CO2 emissions, for instance, with airplane flights as the biggest culprit.

Possible questions to be addressed

The expected doubling of inbound and domestic tourism by 2030 is likely to have a substantial impact on the human environment. The Dutch Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) focuses on these developments.

The request for advice consists of two main questions:

  1. How can we achieve balanced growth of inbound and domestic tourism in the Netherlands based on an integrated perspective that considers the interrelationships between economic development, the human environment and society as a whole?
  2. Which roles must be played by the parties involved (government authorities, entrepreneurs, local residents and knowledge institutes) to realize such a balance, and which tools would be effective? What role can the central government and other government authorities play?


This advisory report is expected to be published in the spring of 2019.

Composition of advisory committee

M. Demmers MBA, Council member and committee chair
J. Kok, Council member

External committee members

C. Gehrels (director of Big Urban Clients programme, Arcadis)
Prof. Dr R. van der Duim (professor of Sustainable Tourism, Wageningen University & Research Centre)

Information or response: 

If you wish to respond or would like further information, please contact project leader Douwe Wielenga by e-mail at or by phoning +31 6 2124 0809.