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Dutch government ditches Holland to rebrand as the Netherlands

DutchAmsterdam, November 2019 — Way back in 1990 the Netherlands Board of Tourism’s North America office just gave up trying to teach Americans the proper way to refer to our country.

Teaching geography-challenged people to call the country The Netherlands instead of Holland was a marketing nightmare.

From then on the board advertised the entire country using the name everyone was already familiar with: Holland.

Difference Holland Netherlands
You want Holland? We’ll give you Holland — along with the rest of the Netherlands. This article appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News on July 22, 1990.

Amsterdam Overtourism

Fast forward to 2019. Amsterdam is bursting at the seams; both with citizens and tourists — especially tourists. Some locals say it’s like ‘living in an overcrowded theme park.’

When visitor numbers dipped as a result of the financial crisis, the city of Amsterdam set up a marketing agency to advertise its charms throughout the world. Within no time its “I amsterdam” campaign became a huge success.

Forecasts show that as many as 42 million people a year will visit the Netherlands by 2030 — up from 18 million in 2018. And though the country has much to offer — as the Netherlands Board of Tourism (Holland.com) tirelessly promotes — the focus for most of these tourists is on Amsterdam and ‘Holland.’

Small wonder, really. Amsterdam is world-renowned and notorious for a number of reasons. (Quick, what’s the first thing to comes to mind?)

Greater Amsterdam; and goodbye to the ‘I amsterdam’ sign

A smaller version of the popular I amsterdam sign often can be found across from Central Station, at the foot of the A’DAM tower.

Once the roll-on effects of overtourism became apparent, the city responded with attempts to spread tourists by promoting ‘Greater Amsterdam.’

Posters and video ads highlight ‘the beaches of Amsterdam,’ ‘Amsterdam’s tulip fields,’ and ‘Amsterdam’s Muiderslot castle’ — even though all are located deep within, or even on the outskirts of, the city’s metropolitan area.

Controversially, the City Council even decided to remove the hugely popular set of “I amsterdam” letters from Museumplein. The iconic sign — 2 meters (6.5 feet) high and 24 meters (26 yards) long — had become a must-visit selfie hotspot, and one of Amsterdam’s most photographed attractions.

The Netherlands: More than Just Holland

Holland logo
The Netherlands’ former logo is now considered ‘too touristy.’ Note that the Netherlands Board of Tourism still operates the website, Holland.com.

In addition to the city of Amsterdam, many other top attractions in the Netherlands — such as tulips, cheese, clogs and windmills, quaint fishing villages, and miles of sandy beaches — are primarily located in two of the country’s best known provinces: North- and South Holland.

But certainly the rest of the country has much to offer as well — not only to tourists, but also to international companies, expats, and investors.

The Netherlands plays an important role in international trade, the promotion of human rights, technology, agriculture, and water management solutions, to name just a few areas of influence.

The Dutch government therefore wanted to update its global image, dropping the ‘Holland’ moniker in favor of ‘The Netherlands.’

‘No more Holland promotion, but a focus on content,’ Minister Sigrid Kaag for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation promised a gathering of Trade Attaches in The Hague last year.

The new logo of the Netherlands now features a stylized tulip, along with the word Netherlands. The was dropped because this looks better in the layout:

New logo of the Netherlands
The Netherlands’ new logo features a stylized tulip. While ‘The Netherlands’ is the country’s official name, The was dropped ‘because it looks better in the layout.’

Upon the logo’s introduction there was some criticism, mostly from Dutch people, on social media about the abstracted tulip. However, the designer explains the stylized tulip is intentionally subtle since the logo must be suitable for use in a wide range of contexts.

“A traditional tulip symbol is too much connected to tourism and souvenirs,” the designer explained. “We designed it in such a way that it is more a reference to a tulip. It makes the acronym more interesting and intriguing, because it is more than a straightforward NL.”

The Netherlands brand is meant to give a new impulse to “export, tourism, and sports — as well as to the promotion of Dutch culture, norms and values”. “We want to profile the Netherlands as open, resourceful and inclusive,” a spokeswoman for the ministry of foreign affairs says.

The rebranding was officially announced on November 8, 2019. That’s well ahead of two key events taking place in 2020 — the Olympic Games in Tokyo and the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam. Both events provide great opportunities to present the new logo to millions of viewers around the world.

The Netherlands: co-creating pioneering solutions to global challenges

“We’ve modernized our approach,” the spokesperson relates. “Under the new international branding strategy the Netherlands will position itself as ‘co-creating pioneering solutions to global challenges.’

That sounds like a phrase only government officials could come up with, right?

Co-creating stands for the cooperation that characterizes the Netherlands 1, Carolien Gehrels 2 from Amsterdam-based Arcadis, involved in the new branding of the Netherlands, explains.

Pioneering emphasizes the country’s pioneering spirit, such as in the field of water management.

Solutions expresses the resolving capacity for “global challenges”, challenges in which the Netherlands is an example to the world.


Are you still reading all this government-speak? Why not read something gezellig instead?

Notes:

  1. the so-called ‘poldermodel
  2. Ms. Gehrels is a former Alderman and Vice Mayor for the city of Amsterdam.
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This post was last updated: Dec. 9, 2019