47 to go
Today, I travel to the smallest country on earth. With its 21 square kilometres, it is about half the size of Schiermonnikoog, one of the Dutch islands and counted only 9.434 souls in 2013. That is the smallest number of any of the 193 UN member states. I am writing about Naura in the Pacific Ocean. Tourism has not yet been developed there: Schiermonnikoog welcomes 300,000 tourists a year, Nauru only 200. It is also the only country in the Pacific for which an European requires a visa. There is very little to do. Moreover, it looks like a moonscape due to years of mining for phosphates. During the raw materials hausse they could have saved enough to retire quietly but they chose the short term; very much like how the Dutch approached their gas bubble.
During the sixties the island had the highest per capita income in the world, citizens did not pay tax and for any medical attention they were flown to Australia, some 4,000 kilometers away, for free. The consequences are not surprising: the once beautiful island is a mess and it’s out of money. It has gone back to mining phosphate and it appears in doing so, it is literally delving its own grave.
Nauru was once known as ‘Pleasant Island’ – not a bad nickname in the Age of Tourism as our era may well become known as. For the emerging global middle class is internati¬onal travel a status symbol and the advantage over the ex¬traction of raw materials is that tourists do not run out. In the next fifteen years, The World Tourism Organisation expects a doubling of the number of global international tourist arrivals. Over half of those incidentally don’t visit a tropical island but go to Europe; to Venice for example.
In Venice they do know what tourism means. The documentary ‘I love Venice’ showed what more than twenty million visitors a year do to a city that has shrunk from 174,000 citizens in 1951 to less than 60,000. Most tourists don’t stay over night and many of them eat homemade sandwiches on an over crowded San Marco square. The irritation with tourists goes so deep that local government has banished suitcases on wheels. Violation of this rule can cost you up to €500.
In Holland people are also worried about tourism. By now we welcome about fourteen million tourists a year and most of those visit Amsterdam. On average they stay for a short period which puts a lot of pressure on the main attractions. Stephen Hodes, founder of LAGroup is sounding the alarm in the magazine ‘Amsterdam – Anticipating the future’. He is afraid the city will become Disney like.
Of course Amsterdam has already been a theme park for a long time, and that is ok. However, I do understand the annoyance when I see hoards of tourists, with or without rolling suitcases, saunter through the city. Nonetheless, there are also advantages. Last year the tourists coughed up about €65 billion and kept around 590,000 in gainful employment according to the National Statistics Agency. This sector will soon need many more people to work in it and that is interesting for those who are losing their jobs because large Dutch retail chains go bust. This year already saw the demise of Schoenenreus and last year we lost Mexx, Halfords and the Free Record Shop. Can we deal with a doubling of the number of tourists? I think we can and I have two solutions: spread out, outside and inside Amsterdam.
First of all we’ll have to change the slogan ‘I Amsterdam’ to ‘Me Holland’, because when you entice the tourists with the name of your city, you can’t blame them for wanting to stay on the canals. So, send the trendy creatives and foodies to Rotterdam, establish an international coffee shop park in Zoetermeer and create a tourist village in Scheveningen with trips to the internationally notorious jail.
Secondly, we’ll create the missing beach islandfrom the sea on IJburg after all. Here, we’ll build replicas of all types of the Amsterdam canal houses right next to each other. In the middle of the island we’ll put an enormous Chinese restaurant and enough parking space for all the coaches on the edges. We’ll hire actors dressed as Hansje Brinker and Anne Frank so tourists can make selfies with them. Let’s roll out the red carpet and found Holland Disneyland. Chinese be most welcome!