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We are looking forward to Nico Mulder, Marketing Strategy Consultant at Amsterdam Marketing, joining us on Thursday 29th November at DTTT Global. Nico will be discussing the impact of overcrowding in Amsterdam, and how the city is tackling this evergrowing issue. 
1. Can you tell us more about the overcrowding issue in Amsterdam and the challenges it generates?

Amsterdam is a relatively small city (220 km2), with 850,000 inhabitants. Within the Metropolitan Area of Amsterdam (2,580 km2) we have 2,4 million inhabitants. Overcrowding is not (only) a tourism issue. It is also related to a general increase of popularity. We see an increase of approx. 13,000 new inhabitants every year too.

Next to a yearly increase of visitors of approx. 8% (in 2017 almost 18 million visitors). Not all days, in all places Amsterdam is overcrowded, but due to our relatively small scale (especially if you compare it to London, Berlin, Rome etc) we see there is a challenge to guide people to new places and locations, especially outside the city center. Since the major highlights are all located in this city center (Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Canal District, Red Lights District etc).

2. What are the initiatives I Amsterdam is taking to overcome this challenge? 

1) We manage the reputation of the city and area (by branding, marketing, welcoming and guiding inhabitants, businesses and visitors throughout the Metropolitan Area). By doing so, we try to get the right image out of Amsterdam, in order to attract the right type of visitors and to show them Amsterdam does not end with the Canal District.

2) We want to optimize the customer journey of visitors, by guiding them more personal, with more relevant and actual data and assistance. For this, we run major campaigns and marketing activities such as a neighbourhood campaign, a metropolitan cooperation to guide visitors to the area outside the city and we operate an I Amsterdam city card with which we can more easily guide people to lesser known places (by also offering public transport)

3) We (try to) downsize and/or ideally prevent nuisance; one of the most actual examples is our Enjoy & Respect campaign, in which we focus on young males from Holland & UK, to create more awareness about what is and isn’t allowed in Amsterdam. Another activity we organize is our annual Amsterdam Visitor Guide Day and a new cooperation with the city hall and walking tour organizers to optimize local walking tours, so they won’t be a nuisance anymore to locals.

3. Last year I amsterdam ran a 3-month pilot called ‘Live Lines’ in response to overcrowded attractions and lengthy queuing times. What were the results of the pilot?
50,000 users in total, 70% stated they have been influenced by the data, out of which 50% stated they visited the museum of their choice on another moment, and 20% stated to have visited another museum/attraction instead.
4. How did you measure the results?
Multiple sources: via online survey (on the landingpage), face to face survey (in our Stores and at certain hotspots), social media survey
5. How did you communicate this service to visitors?

With our own general (international) channels: iamsterdam.com (22 million visitors per year), social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter together 1.5 followers), in our magazines, in our I amsterdam Stores (1.5 million visitors per year), we were able to get massive reach for this new initiative.

Following this, we have launched a press release about just before Easter (traditionally the beginning of the tourist season in Amsterdam), and we send a newsletter to all our 1,100 partners about the new service, so they could use it or communicate it to their guests/clients too.

6. What was the biggest challenge?

To get every on board. To convince them that even though there is a line outside, it is good to communicate about it. Some attractions/museums were wary about saying the actual waiting time is 2 or even 3 hours. They were afraid people wouldn’t visit their location anymore. To me, as a consumer, I appreciate openness and want to make my own choices. Especially when I am travelling and am maybe just in a city for a few days, I find it hard to stand in line for hours instead of doing all these other amazing things!

And from an economic and more commercial point of view, it just doesn’t make sense does it!? We have data, we have a cooperation with partners, we have massive reach and consumers/visitors wanting to get the most out of their stay, so why not connect the dots 😉 Good and essential to add: the waiting lines were also becoming a bit of a nuisance for inhabitants. When passing by the Anne Frank House in the morning (which I do so myself almost every working day), it was getting more and more of a hassle to do this without cycling over one of these visitors 😉

7. Will I Amsterdam be developing this initiative into a permanent service in the future?

We’re working on an even more broad tool now, in close collaboration with the City, in which we are adding other types of data too (parking spots, amount of share bikes, heatmaps, camera’s and also waiting times at popular locations). From this more holistic tool, we can then distillate the actual waiting time again.

Good to mention though, is that in the meantime some of the bigger attractions shifted to time slot tickets. So now the urgency and necessity of showing the waiting times is not so high anymore. For us, it was a great pilot and experiment to create more awareness amongst our visitors and partners that we need to strive for new ways of managing and optimizing the journey.

8. Did Live Lines inspire your latest initiative, Cares Lab Amsterdam?

Not really sure! Sure thing it really does spark lots of great other initiatives and practical tools, all basically focusing on improving the experience of visitors in Amsterdam. Whether it is about discovering new sights and sounds, contributing to the city on a more sustainable scale and/or really adding something to our urban challenges, it all comes down to shaping an even more liveable (for citizens), lovable (inhabitants) and prosperous (businesses) city.

When we were partnering up with the city within the Start Ups in Residence programme (in which we connect start-ups and innovators to urban challenges (like pollution, loneliness of elderly people, distribution of visitors etc etc), we saw that together we can make an even bigger contribution. So when Minouche (start-up officer City Hall) and I read about the Booking Cares Lab, we immediately got in touch with Booking to ask if they were open for a big collab (within the first Booking Cares Lab for a specific destination/city).

From the get-go it was a good match, Booking was able to really add local sensitivities to the briefing and challenges, we were able to add our data, reach and expertise regarding city marketing and branding and our Start Up office at City Hall could really assist the start-ups and innovators with shaping their ideas and building their plans.

9. Please tell us a bit about Cares Lab Amsterdam.

In partnership with the city of Amsterdam and in close collaboration with Amsterdam Marketing, the Booking Cares Lab Amsterdam is a 3-day regional innovation challenge, where startups, non-profit changemakers, local institutions and Booking.com all come together to explore the unique opportunities related to urban and responsible tourism in Amsterdam.

Using the city of Amsterdam as inspiration, the teams of innovators will be challenged to develop solution-specific project plans around one of the following themes (that were formulated by the city, Booking and Amsterdam Marketing together and are aligned with our urban challenges on tourism):

  • Tourism Dispersal: relieving pressure on crowded tourist areas;
  • Inclusive Growth: making sure that everyone in the city benefits from the growing tourism opportunity, including an even more diverse array of local businesses;
  • Behavioural Awareness: educating travellers about how to act more like a local, including tackling topics related to littering and street pollution, noise control, and waste management, i.e. recycling and sorting, etc.
10. Can you tell us about the winning solution?
Out of 119 applicants, we firstly selected 19 applicants for Skype calls to discuss their pitches and global ideas. From these 19 we selected 10 ‘winners’, that were invited to join the 3-day programme in Amsterdam (beginning of October). From these 10, in the end, we chose 4 applicants that really stood out and which we awarded with a grant (of 80K in total) to really boost their idea and related 30-day plan.
11. Will I amsterdam be taking any of the proposed solutions forward?

That depends on the execution. What we can add is a) our network of partners, connection with City Hall etc b) our big reach through all our channels (site, social, magazines, stores, etc) and finally c) our expertise and data. Depending on the character of the idea and its needs, we can discuss together how we can partner up even more so, in order to improve the idea and boost the results.

One of the examples/winners was Seavents, a grand idea to make all events in Amsterdam (where lots of visitors attend) more sustainable. We now try to connect them to all our event and festival partners, in order to create more awareness and execute a true sustainable set up of the event organisation. Another one is Secret City trails, a new and fun way to discover un/not so known places in the city with riddles and quests. Other winners were Clio Muse (an offering self-guided smartphone audio tours created by locals, and adding value to urban challenges like homeless and/or elderly people).

12. What would you say is the key to solving responsible tourism?
Unfortunately, there is not one key 😉 From another perspective, this is also why it is such an interesting (and urgent) matter. We need to use a set of keys, consistently and aligned with local policies in order to get a better (reputation) management for cities/destinations. For Amsterdam (city hall & Amsterdam Marketing), it is about;
  • Focusing on quality and diversity of offering within the city (What kind of city do we want to be and for whom? How can cities develop according to these ideas and wishes?)
  • Marketing and positioning Amsterdam in a smarter and more collective way (i.e. our chatbot guiding people based on their personal profile, make use of more relevant and real-time data or even predictive, our cooperation with other municipalities)
  • Creating better public spaces (for inhabitants, visitors AND businesses, i.e. should we allow all sorts of activities/transport/events within the city (centre)?
  • Setting new rules and regulations (i.e. regarding walking tours in Red Light District or regarding Airbnb)
  • Preventing or downsizing the negative effects of (some) tourists (Enjoy & Respect campaign)

Of course, not all that is gold, does glitter in Amsterdam. We constantly see new developments and challenges popping up. Last week, the city council submitted a new idea to remove the prostitution (partly) from the Red Light District in order to make it less of a tourist entertainment area... I think it essential to think ahead even more and build/develop cities, especially for inhabitants. When inhabitants are satisfied, feel heard, connected and proud, visitors would want to visit those places too wouldn’t we?

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