In the Netherlands, travel is a means to an end. Here’s why.

Annika Rautiola

31 August 2023

“So instead of looking at certain interests, look at the shared interest, look at the society’s interest when it comes to tourism and never […] look at tourism as a goal in and of itself.” 

Ewout Versloot, Strategist at the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions


This season, we step into the vibrant world of Dutch tourism as Travel Beyond embarks a new season in the Netherlands. Join us for a deep dive into why the country’s travel leaders are redefining the norms within their industry. Circular economies, revolutionary aviation regulations, and even campaigns encouraging certain types of travellers not to visit are all part of the bold strategies that are reshaping the tourism landscape.

In  this season’s first episode, we engage in a thought-provoking conversation with Ewout Versloot, a strategist at the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC). Ewout’s fresh perspective, molded in part by his newfound role as a father, prompts us to contemplate the purpose of travel as a force for positive change. We discuss the thinking behind NBTC’s ambitious Perspective 2030 plan, which looks at the changing role of tourism and the sustainable development of the Netherlands as a destination. 

Ewout examines the delicate balance the Netherlands is pursuing – maximizing the benefits of tourism while responsibly addressing its drawbacks. With a critical eye on climate change discourse, he also explores the nuances surrounding advocacy, activism, climate guilt, and shared responsibility, while shedding light on the urgency that drives his work. 

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • About NBTC’s Perspective 2030 Plan for the Netherlands.
  • What it means to shift the focus from tourism as an end goal to becoming a means to an end instead. 
  • How the Netherlands is trying to balance the positive impacts of tourism while mitigating and eliminating its negative effects.
  • Some of the nuances destination managers and travel leaders need to be aware of when talking about social responsibility.
  • Why technology won’t save us.



Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast player to join us on this journey.

Show notes

Perspective 2030 Plan: A new vision for Destination the Netherlands to benefit all Dutch people.

Episode transcript

NBTC E1 – Ewout Versloot

Ewout Versloot: Use tourism as a means to an end. That’s the core change that we made in Perspective 2030. We added everything around that, of course, and there’s much more in there, but I guess that’s the core. Instead of looking at certain interests, look at shared interests. Look at the society’s interest when it comes to tourism. And never, but never, but never look at tourism as a goal in and of itself. 

David Archer: Hello, and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to explore the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet, surfacing their most inspiring solutions. I’m David Archer, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, and I’m recording from the coastal village of Daajing Giids, British Columbia, which is in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.

Sara Raymond de Booy: And I’m Sara Raymond De Booy, Associate Creative Director at Destination Think. I’m recording from Seattle, Washington on Coast Salish land, specifically that of the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot people. On this podcast, we look at the role of travel and choose to highlight destinations that are global leaders. 

David Archer: We talk to the changemakers who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities and often from the bottom up.

Sara Raymond de Booy: We’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems. So be sure to reach out if you have a story to share with us. 

David Archer: And welcome to the podcast, Sara. It’s great to have you here as a co-host for this season. We’ve been working together for quite some time now, but can you tell us a little bit about your role at Destination Think? 

Sara Raymond de Booy: Yeah. So as you mentioned, it’s my first podcast, a bit of a plot twist. I’ve been with Destination Think for 11 years now, I think. And I’ve been working on the visitor content-facing side of things in addition to supporting with a lot of our strategy work. I’ve been involved with past projects like Ottawa, Bermuda, California, Sydney, Destination British Columbia, Visit Flanders, and quite a few more as well.

David Archer: Yeah, you’ve got a real depth of experience working with many, many DMOs. And, and I’ve learned a lot from you. I’ve been with Destination Think about seven years and, I guess in this situation I’m kind of the new guy. So, great to have you here. We’re starting off a new season today and this one takes us to the Netherlands, where there’s a lot of exciting action getting underway if you’re interested in sustainability.

The Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions has set forth a new ambition for 2030. And that desire to evolve the travel industry is really rooted in local values, or what we at Destination Think call Place DNA, which is sort of the Netherlands identity or the place’s identity. And we can see that because this has been going on for some time already.

And throughout some of the communities we visited, there is just so much passion for making the world a better place. And so many stories of how tourism can help those goals along. So as we start the season, Sara, can you tell us why we’re talking about the Netherlands?

Sara Raymond de Booy: Yes. So the NBTC, the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, has been working on a new ambition and plan to really guide the future of tourism and travel in the country. And as we looked into this plan a bit more, it’s really opened a lot of doors and provided a lot of insight into the great work that’s being done alongside it and in alignment with it throughout the country. There’s a lot of really interesting stories to uncover that really support that plan quite well. 

David Archer: Yeah, I’ve seen that in the interviews we have coming up. What’s your impression of the Netherlands from an environmental standpoint? 

Sara Raymond de Booy: I guess there’s the obvious things that you hear and you know about the Netherlands. You know, the big biking culture, big cycling emphasis in Amsterdam. On trips there, the few that I’ve been on, it’s always shocked me how quiet rush hour can be there. Very, very eerie, almost, in comparison to the noise you’re used to in other cities.

I also know that there’s a lot that they’ve been working to do to phase out gas and diesel cars in the city within the next few years and in the country as a whole, there’s, there’s so much need of engineering to really manage all the water and the canals. So a lot of these environmental topics, you know, come from necessity because of, of just the relationship with water there. 

This season, I would also say that I learned a lot more about all sorts in the Netherlands. There’s big movements towards circular economies, and their environmental and tourism progress goes way beyond the transportation and managing visitation levels that we might be hearing a little bit more about in the news. The story goes much deeper than, than just those headlines that we see.

David Archer: Yeah. There’s been some really interesting stories coming out lately and you’ve been delving deep into this season’s stories. We’ve got six episodes in total. Can you give us an overview of who we’ll hear from? 

Sara Raymond de Booy: Yeah, sure. So we’re going to start off the season learning about the changing face of tourism that’s really being guided by the NBTC. And we’re also going to dig into some of the specific concerns that their new strategy addresses. After looking into that for a bit, we’re going to hop over to KLM and get a sense of how the airline sees its role in the future of travel. From there, we’re going to visit Geerte Udo at Amsterdam & Partners and explore a lot of Amsterdam’s approach to attracting the right kind of visitors. From Amsterdam, we’re going to follow Rodney up as he explores Friesland and all the businesses and people there who are enabling circular economy initiatives to really take off. To wrap it up, we’re going to speak with a lot of the collaborative minds that are putting some of what the NBTC is calling for in its plan into practice. 

David Archer: Fantastic. And from that list or, or maybe from other things, what are you most looking forward to examining this season?

Sara Raymond de Booy: I think this season, it’s really interesting to talk through and really examine the idea of the value of travel, not just what the visitor gets out of it, but what it brings to a destination and how it can positively impact a society and also positively impact lessons that the visitor can bring home, too. In addition to that, David, you probably guessed I’m going to say aviation from a personal standpoint. 

David Archer: Yes.

Sara Raymond de Booy: Yes. From a personal standpoint, I am always fascinated by how airlines and long-haul travel fit into all of this. And I think the interview we have with Hedvig Sietsma coming up in episode three really provides some interesting ways to think about aviation amid all of its progresses and challenges. 

Yeah, but that’s all coming up. Do you want to kick off episode one?

David Archer: Definitely, let’s do it. So, today, we’re going to hear from Ewout Versloot, a strategist with the NBTC, who recently sat down with Rodney Payne, our CEO, to give us a lay of the land as he sees it. Here they are. 

Ewout Versloot: My name is Ewout Versloot, and I work at the Netherlands Board for Tourism and Conventions.

Rodney Payne: And what do you do there?

Ewout Versloot: I’m a strategist, and I’m not always sure what that means, but I can say that what I’m allowed to do is think about anything that’s going to happen long term to Destination the Netherlands.

What are the new obstacles and challenges along our way, and see what we need to do with them.

Rodney Payne: We’re sitting here in Rotterdam. Can you tell me a little bit about where we are and the identity of the place?

Ewout Versloot: Rotterdam is, well technically it wouldn’t be my hometown. But it feels, it feels like it. I’ve been living here for quite some time now and/or in the vicinity. And Rotterdam is, is kind of this, for me, a sort of a special place within the Netherlands. It’s a city that’s quite atypical by Dutch standards.

It’s quite modern. It has been built from a modernistic perspective after the Second World War. It was bombed in the Second World War. And the city center was bombed flat, and there was a lot of room for a lot of time to do quite some cool stuff. And this has become this totally different place than most of the Dutch cities, I would say. And this, this mentality of rebuilding the city has shaped the identity for a lot of Rotterdammers. This can-do mentality. 

Rodney Payne: When you see stuff happening in the world, what do you see? 

Ewout Versloot: Not to go too, too global maybe, but we as humanity really need to make change. And it’s framed easiest in terms of sustainability, I guess, and everything that’s around sustainability, but maybe to give you an example, we built a road map last year, a road map towards climate neutral tourism.

So climate neutrality and climate was the core theme there. We also thought of doing a road map on sustainability in general, focusing on ecological sustainability there. But then we thought, okay, but we just had research from local Dutch scientists dividing ecological sustainability up in 13 themes.

One of these themes is a theme: water. Being too much water, not enough water, dirty water, salt water, et cetera. So you see where I’m going with this. The list of stuff that we’re going to run into as humanity is going to be almost endless. 

Rodney Payne: How do you see the big problems in the world connected?

Ewout Versloot: They’re all connected, of course. You can’t focus on climate change without focusing on biodiversity. You could, but you would make other things worse while solving one problem, which is one of the big problems of our time, right? We are living in a society where, for many people, it pays off to specialize in a certain field, a certain area, to focus on that. 

To become a specialist in your field gives you great chances. But by that you, almost by definition, forget to look over the hatch, as we say in Dutch. Look over the other side of the hatch and see what’s happening there. Or just talk to your neighbor, what’s happening there. So while the world is getting more complicated and you need more specialists in certain areas, we also need, right now, more people who can kind of translate between those fields. And try to have them talk to each other, which is not easy because these are complicated topics. But we, we will, kind of have to, we will have to learn this. We also have to learn to deal with complexity in general. We love, we at NBTC love, for example, to simplify complexity by building these beautiful models.

And you know them, you’ve seen them, you’re a consultant, you probably made them, I did too, you know. See if you can bring things down to five main themes, for example, or three main pillars or six principles. And by doing that, you are simplifying the complex nature of the world that we live in. While in the end, always, you’re going to run into the limits of your model again. And things are becoming complex again. So, I’m not sure how we ended up with complexity, but I guess that’s maybe the core of our theme. Things are complex and we need to deal with this.

Rodney Payne: Is sustainability in travel just marketing?

Ewout Versloot: Right now it often is, but not everywhere. No, absolutely not everywhere. I do think it’s often used in marketing as people sensing that for many people, sustainability is becoming something important. So if you branded yourself as sustainable, people might come, and more people might come. 

Rodney Payne: I see a lot of headlines about sustainable aviation fuel and electric flying and hydrogen planes. Can technology save us?

Ewout Versloot: It can, but we should not put our hopes in it. Let’s phrase it this way. Sustainable aviation fuel, for example, and other ways of electric flying have the potential to make sure that even flying can become carbon neutral. At the pace that we’re innovating right now, we’re not going to get there in time, and [by] in time I mean, 2050, for example, we’re not going to get there in time. So yes, we should focus on technology, because it would be great to have carbon neutral flying. It would absolutely be amazing to have that. But we must realize that it’s not going to happen overnight.

Also we have to realize that we have to limit the number of especially long-haul flights right now. And do this in a way that, you know, is fair for the whole world, in a sense.

You know, when you live in Chile, for example, and you need to go from from north to south, you need to fly. There’s no other way to get there. And this is the nuance I want to put out there, when people talk about flying, people often think as a bipolar issue. On the one hand you say, “Technology will save us, let’s keep flying, I don’t feel shame about anything”.

On the other hand, it seems that if you don’t believe that, you have to believe that you’re not allowed to fly anymore, ever again. And that’s not the case. People sometimes think that I’m against travel. I’m not. I love travelling. And like you so eloquently explained, travel can be so valuable and the experiences we undergo while traveling and the people we meet and the things we learn can be so valuable.

Actually, we know from research that people can actually change their values based on their experiences. Not everyone though, we should realize that. 

But we should also make sure that for many of those that aren’t traveling in that way, first off, we can’t expect this from them. And second of all, let’s make sure that they can still travel as sustainably as possible. So, what I’m in favor of, for example, preferably on a European level, global level, but let’s say European level, is a CO2 ceiling for airlines or maybe even airports. So just limit the amount of CO2 an airport can emit. And then lower that CO2 ceiling year after year after year after year after year. And that way you get a direct incentive to make sure that everyone that uses the airport, and for the airport itself, to invest in better technologies if they want to have their current model, or invest in other business models.

That could also be something. If we’re trying to do it with promises and trying to call upon business leaders to do the best they can, I’m not sure if we’re going to get there. Not fast enough, because their incentive is within the current model, not within, I guess, saving the planet, in a sense. 

Rodney Payne: It’s very unusual to be sitting with a strategist from a national tourism board. Talking about aviation in this way, right? I’ve spent my career in this industry and this is an uncomfortable topic. It’s an elephant that we don’t talk about. 

Let’s back up to your Perspective 2030. That was very much about going in a more sustainable, regenerative direction. Can you give me a really quick overview of that strategy?

Ewout Versloot: Sure. Perspective 2030 is all about changing from seeing tourism in and of a goal and of itself and see it as a means to an end.

Which ends that can differ per destination. But for example, for our destination as a whole, make sure it’s accessible for many people. We do it sustainably. Make sure crowded places are becoming less overcrowded, et cetera. And on the destination level locally, it can even be more abstract.

So in my view, if you need a supermarket to exist, make sure you attract tourists that support that supermarket, not attract tourists that go eat out in restaurants. It can be as easy as this. So use tourism as a means to an end. That’s the core change that we made in Perspective 2030.

We added everything around that, of course, and there’s much more in there, but I guess that’s the core. Which also means that you stop looking at tourism as just focusing on businesses on the one hand and visitors on the other hand, as we used to do for ages. But you simply add in what we did, the inhabitants in there.

And you could say that you even should be putting the planet in there as well, or something like that. So instead of looking at certain interests, look at shared interests. Look at the society’s interest when it comes to tourism. And never, but never, but never look at tourism as a goal in and of itself. This, by the way, I got from Anna Pollock, and I want to have her mentioned here. I think she’s one of the sharpest minds when it comes to, I should say, regenerative thinking about this.

Rodney Payne: Definitely. She’s been pushing this for a really long time.

Ewout Versloot: She has, yeah. 

Rodney Payne: And I think it’s taken a lot of us a long time to catch up.

Ewout Versloot: Absolutely. I think I’m not being too radical here. What I try to do here – and maybe other tourist boards or even my colleagues are going to think different about this. But yes, it might be hard to talk about because we love the airline industry. I kind of do too. It brings me everywhere I want to go. It’s amazing. It’s this amazing invention we did. And we love travel and we believe in the power that travel has. And that we see the connections that travel can bring us. And what we can learn from other cultures. And what other cultures can learn from us, maybe. 

But for me, that does not take away that if we see the downside of things, we should think about that. And we have tried to put our head in the sand and tried to not think about it and hope that it would solve itself, but it doesn’t.

And for me, it’s not necessarily ideological either. If you just take the Dutch climate law, it demands from Dutch tourism to be climate neutral in 2050. And right now, including airlines, it’s not going to happen. Including cruises too, by the way. So that’s why I think when talking about KLM, for example, we should at the same time say, “Hey, KLM, we praise you for being one of the most sustainable airlines out there. You’re really trying your best to move forward. But at the same time, we can still acknowledge that right now it’s not going to be enough, looking at your numbers.”

And I’m happy to see that changed. That’s what I try to say. I don’t believe in this dichotomy between believing in the same model as we’re doing right now or being against everything or against flying. No, there’s much in between there. It’s not, and that’s not trying to create a false equivalency here. It’s just trying to be as nuanced and realistic as possible about what we’re seeing in front of us, and trying to judge this as such. 

I also think, just to add one more thing here, I think we need to learn the difference between saying that something needs to change – and we have a shared responsibility – is something totally different than someone is guilty of something. And we as humans, I believe, have a tendency to feel the latter when we ask to do the first. When we’re asked to take responsibility, whether it’s environmental or culturally or whatever, we feel that people are judging us for the things we did in the past. And we really should learn how we can change this.

It’s a communication issue almost, because we do have a shared responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that you personally are guilty for what’s happened, what you did last year, for example. Does that make sense?

Rodney Payne: It makes perfect sense. Your perspective 2030 strategy for the Netherlands focuses. Why, and what does it focus on?

Ewout Versloot: It focuses because you can’t tackle everything at once, especially not as an NTO and not as a sector as a whole. And it focuses to also make sure that you keep it manageable, I guess, in a sense. We just spoke about how such concepts and just focusing can make sure that you can make complex issues accessible for many people to understand and act upon.

So, we decided to focus, among others, on sustainability. Bringing balance to certain areas that are now unbalanced, mostly when it comes to crowdedness or nuisance. But also making sure that destinations in the Netherlands that are not yet able to benefit from tourism could, if they wanted, or if it could help them. One is around accessibility. And one is around hospitality and becoming a good sector to work in. I guess those five are simply born out of necessity. 

What I’m afraid of, if we’re looking at this from a consumer perspective, is that we as people associate travel with a moment in our lives that we don’t have to think about the hard topics that we have to think about day to day. So telling people how dirty it is that you’re flying, for example, or how much CO2 you emit there, it might trigger, let’s say, 10 to 20% of society, western society, that is, at this time, but probably not the other 80%. So I’m not sure if that will help. What I do believe, again, are incentives. So we need to realize and really study, why do people travel? In my view, we often think about the psychological I need a break. I need to have some rest. I want to explore new things. 

I was educated, so to say, as a sociologist. So I also tend to think about travel as a form of consumption that provides us with status. Why do we travel long haul to Bali? Because we see influencers traveling to Bali. And we think, if I travel to Bali, I can be a little bit like them.

These are not conscious processes, and that’s why they’re often hard to understand. But if we want to change the way we travel, we need to make sure that we, provide status to, let’s say, the more sustainable forms of travel closer at home, other forms of consumption, less consumption, maybe, and focus on that.

The other incentive, we, of course, all respond to, whether we’re consumers or entrepreneurs, are financial ones. And that’s why I truly believe that government should not be afraid to use carrots, but also use the stick sometimes. Yes, provide subsidies to help people buy EVs, for example, or help entrepreneurs insulate their windows, or what have you. But also, if you set clear, clear goals, you can also use a stick. It’s not that weird. For example, I’m not sure if this is actually being discussed or not, but when it comes to flying, I truly think we should think about the frequent flyer levy.

Especially from a corporate perspective, if the first flight cost you, I don’t know, five extra euros, that’s nothing. But if the second one is 50 extra euros and the third one is 200 extra euros, then from a certain point on, a company is going to say, well, maybe let’s limit the number of flights. So that’s like a workaround for some kind of personal carbon budget, in a sense, I guess.

But we can also make sure that we’re targeting those that we need to target. Again, it’s not an issue if you’re going on holiday once a year with your family to the Turkish Riviera, for example. That’s not necessarily the issue. If anything, it’s understandable because it’s probably the cheapest vacation for you out there.

It’s cheaper than staying in the Netherlands and doing stuff. For many people. So do we want to bully those people into not doing it anymore? Or do we want to target the consultant who’s flying 50 times a year all over the place? Business class, have you? Which impact, of course, is multiple. So let’s not be afraid of the sticks sometimes, as well. 

Rodney Payne: Paint me a picture of what tourism looks like in 2030 in the Netherlands. Where do people come from? What do they do? What impact does it have? 

Ewout Versloot: So paint a picture of looks like it does right now, with many regards. I think what we don’t necessarily should want with each other is that we all become like eco-hippies or something. And all, that we all become vegan and we do everything as green as possible. 

We do everything as green as possible. But for many people it doesn’t have to feel green. It’s not part of the identity. They are not looking at. So it might not look that much differently. At all. From the surface. 

I think under the surface, when you look a bit deeper, we hopefully will see that well, the mix of visitors is around the same as it is right now. That’s about 75-80% of people come from nearby countries. And what I hope is that, those people who can use as sustainable as transport they can to get here. I hope the number of EVs going in the Netherlands is going to rise majorly. That’s my hope. I do think people will still visit Amsterdam, for example.

They will, of course. But I hope we have found ways that are visiting other parts of the Netherlands, as well. Which we’re already doing. So it’s, I’m, I’m not sure if it’s going to change that much on, on a surface level. But below the hood. I think that lots, lots is going to change. 

Rodney Payne: What you think this means for the Netherlands Board of Tourism? What will you do differently as an organization?

Ewout Versloot: In 2030, I hope we’re not having these kinds of conversations anymore. I hope by 2030, we have implemented some policies and some structures of working or collaborating on this to make sure that we are not anymore in a stage of awareness, or providing people with the urgency, or convincing people of the need to take action, but that we’re actually working day to day in making things happen, which won’t be easy.

But I hope we can be at a point in time that “if we should act” is not no longer an issue, but it’s all about how can we get there as fast as possible and as equitable as possible. That would be my dream for 2030, to not be in rooms and think, Oh, really, we’re still trying to delay? But that I can be in rooms and think, okay, these are the people I want to work with towards a better future. But again, we have to provide the incentives as a society to do that. 

Rodney Payne: I get the sense that people in the Netherlands are a little more conscious of some of the challenges, and that’s probably interrelated with the national law that requires decarbonisation. Political pressure and legislation, go hand in hand. Where has the impetus come from for you to be thinking about this and talking about it? Because I’m sure in your role, it would be much easier not to. And your daily life would be a lot easier not to worry about it.

Ewout Versloot: For me personally, and this is a big cliche, but my daughter is two and a half years old now. And I want to leave her a better world than I found. And I found a great world. But it’s a great world with with many flaws. And I want to try and create or help create a world for her that’s hopefully even more beautiful with even less flaws. I know that I’m not going to make that happen all by myself. I know that. But the least I can do is try. And I think that is why we are here on Earth, in a sense. To try and make it a better place. 

Rodney Payne: 

Thinking about our trip that we’ve just been on, that you’ve very graciously shared the Netherlands with us. Can you think about some of the things happening in your country that get you really excited?

Ewout Versloot: Yeah, happily. Okay. And this is, this is on multiple levels, so bear with me. What I love to do in my work is work with those people that you share values with, and mostly that you share a goal with. So working with some of the people that you have been meeting, is absolutely fantastic.

So working with the province of Friesland, for example, just sustainable tourism in general, and just see how we can move forward, work with entrepreneurs, help them take the next step, in a sense, is amazing. And the work they’ve been doing there is absolutely inspiring. Which, why we said, let, yeah, Rodney, if you’re going anywhere, go, go there, go to But also look at, for example Restaurant Rotonde that we just visited. From, deep convictions within them, they are trying to change the way that they do a restaurant, that they are building a restaurant. Do everything local, do everything as sustainable as they can and try to set steps every day. And when a freaking green Michelin star within one and a half years. Or think about Blue City where we also went, which is just this incredible space in an old swimming pool where they’re trying to help entrepreneurs move forward when it comes to circularity. 

And again, what all these examples have in common [is] that it’s not about being perfect from the first moment on. It’s about doing more tomorrow than you’re doing today. Try to become a little bit better at it. Try to share what you’ve learned, both positive and negative. And this is maybe another thing that I truly… It’s kind of becoming a pet peeve of mine, is, for example, a destination saying, I want to be the most sustainable destination in year X.

Or I want to be on top of this list in year I. Because it’s the old thinking, like, I have to be the best at it, but then in sustainability. But it can’t be about that. When you’re talking about sustainability, we don’t know everything yet. There’s so much we don’t know, so we have to share, we have to be as transparent as we can.

We have to be sharing both everything that works and everything that didn’t work. That’s what I like to talk about in my presentations as well when I talk about the roadmap we developed last year. It can’t be just about, we did an amazing job creating an amazing roadmap and now everything is going to be fine for Destination the Netherlands.

It’s not. The chances are that maybe even 5% of people who opened the document came across page 2. That’s highly, highly possible. The question is if that’s a problem. Because we learned a lot through the process. Many people got activated through the process. We got to build momentum on the process.

We internally were able to expand the sustainability program. We’ve got conversations going with all kinds of parties and stakeholders all across the Netherlands because of this. And we’re sitting here because of this. So, success can have many faces. And I think what we should learn, again, as human beings, is that failures can be successful as well, in a sense. 

Rodney Payne: Ewout, do you work for Extinction Rebellion?

Ewout Versloot: No, no, I do not. But, people tend to think that I am. The weird thing is that people are, who are much more activistic than I am, often think I’m too nuanced. And many, many other people think I’m part of Extinction Rebellion or Greenpeace or what have you. And I think this is a problem. I think being for or against climate action or whatever is becoming part of someone’s identity, in a sense, that you have to be either this or that, or for or against.

And I think it’s a problem that I’m getting identified as, as an activist sometimes. Why it bothers me is twofold. First off, personally, I don’t like to people perceive me that way. I think of myself as trying to be a nuanced person who tries to take many views into account.

But secondly, it also proves that the gap between where people are, many people are, and where we need to be as a society is huge. And this is also what frightened me during the, the roadmap process last year. We tried to bring together both scientists who work on this, and the sector. And when you talk to individuals within the sector, the gap isn’t that big.

On an individual level, people are ready. But on an institutional level, we have a huge gap. And yes, the awareness is now there when it comes to climate action. But the urgency certainly is not. People are not really realizing, I think, how urgent this is. What we’re facing. And that we need to act now.

Rodney Payne: How urgent do you think this is?

Ewout Versloot: Well, we’re seeing the effects every day. Right now when we’re talking, mid-April, they’ve had their first heat wave in Spain. In some places there’s no drinkable water anymore. And crops are failing in April. This is Europe. Only a couple years ago, in the Netherlands, but also mostly in Germany and Belgium, we had huge flooding. That should not be happening at that time. We see that ski resorts in Europe are having more and more trouble opening each year. They’re losing skiing days, which means they’re losing economic revenue, etc. We see that other parts of the world effects are even harsher. Heck, Bangladesh is literally caving in from the coast on in, their place in the world disappearing.

 And this is just the tip of the iceberg, right?

Rodney Payne: And as our generation moves into their careers and upwards in their careers, I think the biggest risk, or one of the biggest risks for organisations, is just revolt from their staff. You know, it’s not activism, it’s just practicality. And we saw this with Amazon. Workers at Amazon revolted and walked out because of the inaction on climate. So what happens in travel when people like you go one little step further?

Ewout Versloot: What surprised me, but maybe it shouldn’t have, is when we started on this, there were so, so many colleagues who wanted to join in. All they needed was, I guess, the go ahead by someone up the chain to start doing it.

Many people are working on and they want to. And sometimes as a leader, I believe in companies, you, you just have to say, okay, let’s, let’s start. Let’s let’s do this. I call to this in Sofia. I said, most of you are are in a leadership position. Send a text to one of your employees and say, Okay, let’s start working on sustainability, or I want to do more on this topic. Let’s talk about, I don’t know, three ways that we can start with tomorrow. I don’t know. 

But there’s a danger in this as well, and what I see happening is that it’s. Often falls on the younger generations young, even younger than I am. I guess, I just turned 35. So I guess I’m not young anymore. It’s that they will solve this.

They’re worried about this. Let’s just put some millennials and Gen Zers in charge. They will run the sustainability program. They will come up with these, and then we’ll get fixed. And what leaders have to realize, in my view. Is that we can only fix this if they’re going to do this company wide. Integrate sustainability as a topic, or ESG as a topic, I don’t know, as a concept, company-wide. And if they, top down, are going to tell people, this is how we’re going to do this. Not just you Millennials and Gen Zers, but also you Gen Xers and Boomers. We all have to do this, whether you like it or not. So that’s what we do need.

We do need the generation that is in power now to act upon this. We can’t just say, yeah, yeah, there’s a very, very enthusiastic generation coming and they will solve this. Because they might not. And, and we don’t have the time. We have to do it right now. And again, that sounds a bit dramatic, but that’s how I view it.

It’s, it’s, we see it happening all around us, so we need to act now. 

Rodney Payne: A common theme that’s been coming out of conversations for me is that maybe travel is the way we can show a different way. What can the Netherlands show the world? 

Ewout Versloot: That it’s not about being the best. We’re trying to solve this together. So what I’m trying to do internally, and many colleagues with me, by the way, is when we talk about what we show, for example, on our marketing channels, it should not be, look how sustainable we are. It should be about, we realize that’s a problem here, and we’re trying to trying to work on this. Let’s try and work on this together. Let’s share. I think this sharing part and this collaboration part is highly important. It’s difficult as well, and it’s a change from what we’re doing. But I think, I truly think that we should also not be afraid to share examples from, I don’t know, competitive countries. Why wouldn’t we? We’re working on the same thing here. 

Rodney Payne: If I gave you a magic wand and a blank checkbook, what would you change tomorrow?

Ewout Versloot: If my wand could provide politicians with the courage to make the decisions that they know are actually needed, I would do that. I think there lies maybe the core problem in all of this. We all know what should happen. We’ve got very smart people out there who can tell you what needs to happen. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but there are certain things we can do tomorrow. For example, implementing a CO2 ceiling and providing incentives for, for example, airlines to step up innovation. But we should have to find the courage to make those decisions, again, preferably on a European level.

Rodney Payne: Do you think also that beyond the influence that the travel experience can have to show people a different future that are also the necessary infrastructure changes can be driven by our sector. You know, we have to reinvent. Transportation, aviation, much infrastructure, much about our built environment. Can travel put really good, positive pressure in that direction?

Ewout Versloot: Yes, absolutely. I think we can then be more vocal about it. I would love to have the Netherlands be even more accessible by high-speed railway.

I think it’s great that we can get to Paris in three hours and London in three hours. But the fact that we need six and a half hours to get to Berlin because the intercity needs to stop in every destination or city in between.

You know, in summertime we have, we as the Netherlands have a, I believe a weekly, direct high speed train to the south of France that will get you there in less than six hours. From the Netherlands to the south of France in less than six hours. Can it be not just a summer thing, but a year thing? And in the summer, can it be a daily thing?

Maybe. That would need governments, you know, overcoming certain disagreements about how we do things on rails in Europe. But it also needs companies, and that we see popping up, by the way, that are there to invest in, you know, this railway driver. But also, you know, companies that dare to tell the story that it’s actually quite comfortable in six hours to the south of France with a train where, you know, your toddlers or what have you, your children can just play a bit and have some space to run around.

And then when you get there, rent an electric car, maybe, if the facilities allow it. That sounds sounds like the dream. If you’re going to drive it, it’s 14 hours. If you’re going to fly, you’re in like a little cabin and it’s not even that much faster. So it sounds like a dream. It sounds like the business case should be there. So yeah, maybe we should be a little bit more vocal about that. 

Rodney Payne: Thanks, Ewout, for letting us come to the Netherlands and look around and see the great work you’re doing. 

Ewout Versloot: Again, I’m, we’re just trying. I’m just trying. Yeah, it’s all we can do. 

David Archer: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think, and you just eavesdropped with Sara and I on a conversation between Rodney Payne and Ewout Versloot, a strategist with NBTC. We’ll include links to more resources on the blog for this episode at 

My co-host and co-producer is Sarah Raymond be Booy. This episode has been produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer. Lindsay Payne and Annika Rautiola provided production support. We would like to thank NBTC, the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, for their support in creating this podcast season with us. You can help more people find this show by subscribing and by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Next time we’ll speak with Jos Vranken, also at NBTC, on how the Perspective 2030 plan sets a framework for building a new future of tourism. 

Jos Vranken: We feel strongly about the fact that tourism and travel has a massive impact for the better and for worse. And we really need to steer and guide that into the desired direction. 

David Archer: See you then! 


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