Putting sustainability into practice in the Netherlands

Annika Rautiola

21 September 2023

“One of the biggest challenges we’re now facing is how are we going to create tourism policies in a participative way.” – Roos Gerritsma, Lab Lead at Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Amsterdam



This episode concludes our exciting journey through the Netherlands, where we’ve been learning about the country’s vision for the future of travel and some of the actions already making it happen. In this final installment of our season, we delve into the practical side of things by speaking with leaders who are turning theory into reality, providing innovative solutions that align with the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions’ (NBTC) forward-looking Perspective 2030 plan.

From circular economies to regenerative tourism concepts, we explore a diverse range of businesses committed to sustainable practices. Blue City, a thriving hub for entrepreneurs in Rotterdam, demonstrates the transformative potential of repurposing urban spaces. Meanwhile, Restaurant Rotonde invites guests to embark on a culinary journey towards a better future by embracing sustainable dining.

A dynamic duo of urban planners from BLOC are redefining urban design and engineering by prioritizing waterways as the new highways. They share their intriguing approach that merges transportation, sustainability, and community engagement. Finally, we visit  Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Amsterdam, where students are not only gaining education but are actively contributing to the long-term well-being of their North-Amsterdam neighbourhood.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • About the wide variety of businesses already putting regenerative tourism concepts into practice. 
  • Why and how a Rotterdam swimming pool became a gathering place for entrepreneurs.
  • How a new Michelin-starred restaurant is asking its guests to taste their way to a better future. 
  • About a pair of urban designers and engineers who are making waterways the new highways.
  • How students in one Amsterdam neighbourhood are making a long-term impact and bringing the community together. 



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Show notes

BlueCity –  A model city for the circular and blue economy and home to 55 entrepreneurs. BlueCity’s mission is to accelerate the transition from the linear to the circular economy through entrepreneurship.

Restaurant Rotonde – A restaurant in Rotterdam that has just received a Michelin Green Star. 

BLOC – “A creative developer and advice bureau for the next generation of our cities. They develop bold and inspiring solutions for the next generation of our cities in a rapid, agile and iterative way.”

Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Amsterdam – Researchers, students and educational coaches who are exploring the quality of life in and around the northern part of Amsterdam. 


Episode transcript

Jeannette Verdonk: The waste from an entrepreneur can be the raw material for another entrepreneur. So we are working together. 

Birk Heijkants: What happens in restaurants is on the front of a bigger culture shift. 

Marieke de Bode: If you do it in a smart way, you can solve some touristic problems and some circular problems, but you can also do it at the same time. 

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 speaking to you from the coastal village of Daajing Giids, British Columbia, in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.

On this podcast, we look at the role of travel and we highlight destinations that are global leaders. And we talk to change makers in those places who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, often from the bottom up. And as we go, we’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems. So do reach out if you have a story to share. 

Last episode, we explored concepts of circular economies in Friesland, a province in the Netherlands. And this time, we’re going to take a bit of an express tour. We’ll hear from some fascinating people and organizations whose actions are bringing the nation’s Perspective 2030 plan to life already. So putting theory into practice. 

Our first stop is in Rotterdam. Circular economies are gaining traction in this city, too, and that’s actually how Rodney ended up wandering through a very vibrant, abandoned water park called Blue City, which, yes, is based out of an old swimming facility, but today it’s a hub for entrepreneurs who are working collaboratively to tie into a no-waste economy.

So let’s listen in as he chats with Jeannette Verdonk to see how it all works.

Jeannette Verdonk: My name is Jeannette Verdonk and I’m working at Blue City, where we are here. I’m the marketing and program manager of Blue City. 

Rodney Payne: And what is Blue City?

Jeannette Verdonk: Blue City is a circular hub in the Netherlands, in Rotterdam.

And we start here around 2016, with an oyster mushroom. We grow them on coffee waste. We were inspired by, what’s the name of the Koenterpauli? Koenterpauli. He has the blue economy case. And three guys from Rotterdam thought, we have to do that. And they start growing oyster mushrooms.

And so that is the place where it all started. And they did it downstairs here under the swimming pool. And then they thought, we have to create a hub where people who are innovating and pioneering, pioneers of the future, we have to give them a place. And that’s why Blue City started to buy this building. And they start the circular economy in this swimming pool. 

Rodney Payne: Okay, we need to back up, because we’re in a swimming pool. How did you end up in a swimming pool?

Jeannette Verdonk: Yeah, that’s a stra- we thought the swimming pool, we have to start in a building who is different than than a normal company area. We choose for this swimming pool because the building is very popular and famous in, in Rotterdam. So we have to pay attention on the things we are doing, and that’s why we choose for this building to start Blue City.

Rodney Payne: So the building itself represents circularity because you’re reusing it.

Jeannette Verdonk: Yes, we’re re-using everything. And also the building is reused and recycled and everything is not throwing away, but reused and recycled.

We are working here like nature does. So nature doesn’t have any waste. We don’t have any waste here as well. The entrepreneurs here in this building, the waste from an entrepreneur can be the raw material for another entrepreneur. So we are working together. We are closing the loops and we are using the waste from each other.

So really the step on the horizon is the blue economy. That’s why we call it Blue City. But to have your business circular and closing the loop, that is a really good start. So, now we have more than 55 entrepreneurs in the building who are working circular, or even like blue principles.

Rodney Payne: What’s the difference between circularity and sustainability or regeneration?

Jeannette Verdonk: Circularity is closing the loop, so you have your own process and you close that, but that is not exactly what nature does because nature is like a mycelium under the surface. They are working together, and they are talking with each other. They cooperate. And that’s what’s happening here downstairs.

For example, we have a beer brewery, and the CO2 of the beer brewery is used by the algae farm. They grow spiro and the waste of the beer brewery is used by our soap maker. So everything is exchangeable like nature.

Rodney Payne: That’s really incredible. Can you tell me more about some of the things that you’re trying and some of the things that entrepreneurs are trying in the building?

Jeannette Verdonk: Yeah, there is a lot going on here because we have, what I said, more than 55 entrepreneurs. We opened, in 2020, the Blue City lab. So before you can start your business, you have to do research and investigation, and you have to try and error and try and error.

And that’s why we started the lab. Because for normal people, it is really difficult to enter a lab. You need some guidance, you need knowledge and in the Netherlands, it’s difficult to go to a lab. So that’s why we said, we have to have that here because we want to help young people pioneering and you can make false here and so, if you want, every idea is possible, but you have to do research and trying and building and find out how it’s working. So that’s what we are doing here. It is really a pool of possibilities. 

Rodney Payne: Why are entrepreneurs so important?

Jeannette Verdonk: Yeah, because entrepreneurs are people who are doing and they have the guts to doing it. I think circularity, you can talk a lot about it, but you can just, you have to start. And that’s what entrepreneurs do. They really have the energy and, and they, they just start. 

Rodney Payne: What do you think it takes to get from where we are now and what you’re seeing here in a small incubation lab to creating a blue city for Rotterdam?

Jeannette Verdonk: Yeah, it is difficult because what you notice is that you have to deal with all kind of people in the old economy. So if you also want to invest this, you have to be an impact investor, that you not only are thinking about money, but you want to be an investor which makes impact, and that you want to help these companies, because this is the new way. 

But also in legislation, we have rainwater and we want to make business with it. But rainwater is not in our laws. There is no legislation with it, so it is not allowed to work with rainwater. And so we also hack the system. So we have hackathons to help the entrepreneurs to go, yeah, to, to make their business, because it is an old model also here in Rotterdam and in the Netherlands. We need everyone. We need the government. We need investors. We need farmers. We need to make the system change. And what we are doing in our approach, because we have the 55 entrepreneurs, but we are also going into the city with our programs to help the entrepreneurs to get along and to start with circularity.

So, like Hotel Neutraal, at Nieuwe Nasse, they give you chances to, that you think, oh, food waste, for example, what can I do with that? So you have to change your normal behavior and you have to think different. You have to reset your mind.

Rodney Payne: That’s perfect. You talked about the old world and the new world, which I really like, and thinking about how that transition is made. Your building is very visible. It’s right in the middle of the city on the harbour. How did a new social enterprise manage to get a space like this, and why did you do that?

Jeannette Verdonk: Yeah, we were very lucky that we could buy it for 1 million euros. We didn’t have the largest offer in the market, but there were people living on the other side. They have some power in the government and they, because the other plan was, oh, it could be apartments with the best view of the city, but they don’t want to disturb their view over the maze. And so that’s why we get it. 

It is difficult to change the system in your own, and it’s only working when you work together. And I think that is really the big, big plus of Blue City, that we have all parts here, and also government. And people from abroad are coming here to see what we are doing, and how it’s working, and how we are the social hub who, how, how does it work? We think about not in competition, but incorporating collaboration with each other and with nature. That is what we are doing here every day.

Rodney Payne: Do you feel hopeful or frightened about the future?

Jeannette Verdonk: Both. So I’m hopeful, because every day I see what’s going on here and all the good ideas and companies who working very hard with all the universities, so I see a lot of new ideas and new innovations. I think, whoa, that may change the world, eh, and the system. But I, when you look, I’m also a little bit frightened about, everything, what I see in the world now with all the crises and the biodiversity and the seawater temperature is raising. So, Yeah, we don’t have to wait that long. We really need the change as soon as possible. And I’m happy to be here, because I see the change here and I hope everyone is going to see the change and together we can make the change.

And we have to cooperate and collaborate with each other.

Rodney Payne: What do you hope the world can learn from Blue City?

Jeannette Verdonk: I hope that you see here that it can, and just do it. So don’t think, you know, it is impossible, but we show here that is possible, and by good energy and the right spirit, we can do it. So just do it. 

David Archer: We just heard about how eliminating waste is a big priority at Blue City, but have you ever thought about what that same no-waste concept might mean for your next dinner out? Also in Rotterdam, the Restaurant Rotonde is bringing these circular economy principles straight to the plate, because dining here will get you a great vegetarian meal, but it also brings a few creative sides.

It’s their goal to help educate guests about making better choices with their own food at home, and Rodney happened to sit down with the Restaurant Rotonde team the day after they earned a Green Michelin star. Congratulations, folks. 

And now we’ll listen in to learn about their mission and how inspiration goes way beyond their restaurant walls.

Here we go.

Birk Heijkants: My name is Birk Heijkants, and we’re at Restaurant Rotonde in Rotterdam.

Rodney Payne: And yesterday you got some very exciting news. What happened? 

Birk Heijkants: Yeah, we got an Green Michelin star yesterday. And that’s a reward from Michelin for sustainable restaurants.

Rodney Payne: Congratulations. It’s really incredible and great timing to be here today talking to you. The vision behind Restaurant Rotonde is very unique and quite special. Can you tell me about what your mission is?

Birk Heijkants: We’re trying to be a sustainable restuarant. We’re doing that by cooking with vegetables from close by, so local vegetables um, from farmers we know and we pick our vegetables up ourselves. And at the same time, I think we are going to be a more sustainable restaurant, but we would never say we’re the most sustainable, or we’re completely vegan, or we’re completely ecologic or something like that.

We don’t use many of those strong words, because we try to keep the conversation open and to research what’s more sustainable than other things. So we try to think about every choice we make every time.

Rodney Payne: Why is it so important for you to rethink and explore a different way of creating cuisine and exploring the food system? Why does it matter so much?

Birk Heijkants: I think it’s a very big subject in making the world more sustainable. Of not only or well for a very little part it is in the restaurant business. But I think what happens in restaurants, it’s like on the front of a bigger culture shift, maybe sometimes. I feel like we can be an example of how we can eat and drink in maybe a couple of years or maybe even from now on.

So So that’s why we don’t say everybody should do what we do, but sometimes some of the things or some little steps to make better choices for the world are sometimes the easiest thing to do. Yeah.

Rodney Payne: I think that’s such a powerful thought, to think about restaurants at the cutting edge of culture shift. I’ve never heard that described in that way, and it it’s really, it is really inspiring.

When you welcome people into your space that you’ve created, and it’s beautiful where we’re sitting. It feels you know, your home, almost. What do you hope people will take away? 

Birk Heijkants: Mostly just flavor, actually, because we sometimes work with vegetables like Brussels sprouts, and I dunno if that’s the same everywhere, but in the Netherlands, everybody has their youth memories about Brussels sprouts and their mothers or fathers or whoever cooked for them. They cooked it in a pan of boiling water for way too long. So the Brussels sprouts get soft and get bitter and and that’s, I think that’s the thing with many vegetables.

People ate them once, or when they were young but maybe in the wrong way, or in the not so delicious way, actually. So I think it’s really interesting when people say, oh, Brussels sprouts, they see it on our menu and they order it and it’s, oh yeah, I used to not like those, but yeah, let’s try.

And then. They eat it and it’s like the best Brussels sprouts they ever had. So I think that’s really interesting, because when maybe next time when they’re in the supermarket and they see the Brussels sprouts, they would buy them instead of their less sustainable choice, maybe.

Rodney Payne: The idea of bringing people in to the restaurant to show them that a different way as possible is very powerful. You also share stories publicly about exploration and your journey that you’re going on. Can you tell me why you do that? 

Birk Heijkants: Yes, because I think I feel like in the restaurant, people should or could just have a really nice evening out. There shouldn’t be anything teached to you in the restaurant if you don’t want to. Our idea is actually that there should be almost like an unlimited amount of information from us, but not if you don’t want to. So if you’re eating here and drinking here, you’re just having fun with the food and the drinks and also our coworkers and the other guests.

But what we’re doing is, I think, interesting enough to learn more about if you want to. So we can do that at the table, because everybody who works here knows exactly what we’re doing. And this also explain that mission quite enough. But if you want to learn more there should be more information and maybe recipes.

Just because if you want to make something like those Brussels sprouts at home and there’s a recipe on our website, maybe it’s for you even easier to buy those. And for the stories, sometimes we try to explain things to people, but some of those things are more complex than explaining that in two minutes.

So sometimes it’s easier to write it down and to yeah, people can just choose how much they want to read and how much information they want. 

Rodney Payne: What do you think the problems are in our food system? 

Birk Heijkants: I think the biggest problem in our food system is monoculture. Big lands with only one species on it. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s an animal or a plant, but we have a lot of land with only one species.

And because of that, you need to use a lot of synthetic stuff to make it happen. Because the nature doesn’t work like that. You need different species to feed the soil, to feed the animals and everything. So I think that’s probably the biggest problem at this moment. 

And the other thing is, and it’s not very popular to say, but the other thing is meat and dairy. Because when we are talking about the Amazon rainforest and why it’s cut down, it’s only because there is a need for soy production, and the soy isn’t for vegetarian burgers because we need a very big amount of soy and other beans to feed our animals.

Rodney Payne: What do you think is stopping culture and society from making the changes that you see needed?

Birk Heijkants: I think it just needs an awful lot of time. It’s a generational thing. For example, the people who are now above 60, even if you ask, okay, but why wouldn’t you do this or that? They’re just like, I’ve always done it like this. So why would I change it now?

And I think that’s probably not so different even for millennials or maybe Gen Z, I don’t know, but I feel like it’s, it just needs so much time, it’s, you’re doing it different than your parents, but then you’re doing it the same way your whole life and maybe with little changes, but it needs just a couple full lives, those changes.

Rodney Payne: What’s your vision for the food system in the Netherlands? What would you love it to look like?

Birk Heijkants: Yeah, that’s a bit of a tense question at this moment, because we just had elections for the provinces, and the farmers movement, they won a lot of votes. And they want to have a lot of cows actually. But I think it would be very interesting if there would be a nice biodiversity. There could be still some animals, but maybe not in thousands. So I feel like there should be more diversity and probably more focus on vegetables, also. And also probably food forests. I think that’s a very interesting way of combining nature and food production. Because you can build like a full forest, but then you can also eat out of it. 

Rodney Payne: Do you believe we need individual change or collective change?

Birk Heijkants: Collective. And I don’t think individuals should ever be punished by their choices, because I feel like there’s a lot of influence by big companies and by governments.

Rodney Payne: And what is your vision for Restaurant Rotund? What do you hope or imagine this to become in five or ten years?

Birk Heijkants: Yeah, that’s a good question because we got the Green Michelin star yesterday and, till yesterday, that was my vision for over five years. Yeah, I feel like we can go even some steps further, because we don’t have meat or fish on our menu, but we have some dairy and some eggs.

And I think we can go further in that and also in exploring other products. So we use a little bit of seaweed now, for example. But I think we can do that more, and we can use more of the products from food forests. So I think more innovation, more interesting products.

And what I saw the last year was that we already made so many steps. And for me, we’re still at the beginning of what we are capable of.

Rodney Payne: Congratulations again on your success. 

Birk Heijkants: Thanks. 

Rodney Payne: Thank you for sitting down with me today. 

Birk Heijkants: Thank you. Of course. 


David Archer: Our next stop today is just a 15-minute bike ride from Restaurant Rotonde. This time we’re heading to a creative company called BLOC, and their building is right next to a tram stop and just up from one of the city’s water taxi terminals. So it’s an ideal place to meet and sit down with two urban designers from the organization to learn about how they’ve been using collaborative approaches to solve tourism pinch points.

And as you’ll hear, water is a theme that connects quite a few of BLOC’s ideas and projects.


Marieke de Bode: My name is Marieke de Bode and I’m the urban designer and concept developer at BLOC. 

Ruben Lentz: My name is Ruben Lentz, and I’m also an urbanist and also a partner at BLOC.

Rodney Payne: And what does an urban designer do?

Marieke de Bode: Good question. Actually, I don’t think I have one specific answer for you. But in this case, I think in BLOC, the urban designer is the spin in the web. So we talk multiple languages, the private, public language, and we try to combine it and to solve very complex issues. 

Rodney Payne: And an urbanist?

Ruben Lentz: It’s more or less the same. So you could say an urbanist combines both design and planning in the cities. And as Marieke notes, it’s really a part of getting people together. In cities, all problems, challenges, but also opportunities intertwine in the place where we live and work, etc. So we really have to connect people to good solutions and the way forward.

Rodney Payne: Can you tell me a little bit about BLOC?

Ruben Lentz: We were founded almost nine years ago as a really, as a collaboration studio, you could say. So process management of area development. And actually we reinvented ourselves quite a few times throughout the years. We made some steps much more towards project development of buildings itself. But now we really focus on three major areas. Area development, building development and mobility concepts.

That’s really the key focus area. And in this we have a business model that we both take initiatives. And sometimes we are just hired as consultants to fix a problem or a challenge. But not 

Marieke de Bode: regular consultants? No. More the creative? 

Ruben Lentz: Yeah.

Rodney Payne: What’s the difference between a regular consultant and a creative consultant?

Marieke de Bode: I think if you compare us to regular consultants, then the task of that consultant stops at maybe just report or some advice. And we try to link it to very specific actions to bring it to the next phase. 

Rodney Payne: You mentioned problems and opportunities being entwined in places. Can you explain what you mean?

Ruben Lentz: Yeah, sure. As you noted, the Netherlands is quite a compressed country, you could say. It’s really dense for European standards. And that’s why all things have to come together here in a good way. So the way that we relax, the way that we work, the way that we meet. But also we share this plot of land, of course, with nature, being animals, plants, the sea, everything together.

And we have larger issues that surround us all. The climate, biodiversity, those kind of issues. You have to combine those things really into integral solutions to fix them. The hard part is that, especially the older economy, and you could say society for a part as well, is really separated.

So you have the private sector, and you have the public sector, and you have NGOs, separate, and government, for instance, as a municipality, different departments, not necessarily talking to each other or working together. These challenges, they cross all these sectors and these perspectives, and yeah, the living world of people sometimes, so we really have to combine it, and that’s why we really love to work on these concepts, as Marieke told, because that creates a story where people can work together on.

Rodney Payne: And can you tell us about some of the projects that you’ve worked on and some that you are working on at the moment?

Ruben Lentz: Actually, one of our heritage projects, you could say, the whole UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk, it was financially in really bad shape. It was bankrupt, so to speak. And it was really stuck in a catch-22, where they needed more visitors to come there, but those visitors always visited the premises with the touring car mostly, and that created a lot of nuisance. 

You have to know that it’s also a very religious neighborhood, so people like their Sunday rest, but yeah, these touring cars coming through small villages, really bothering the community. And we built a large investment program together with the governments on multiple scales, like how can we get this situation loose again.

And one of the things that we thought of was a new connection over water with a water bus. So it’s a ferry, a faster ferry connection that functions as a public transport system. So it’s very nice. It functions between here and a few adjacent cities.

And we connected this attraction to this system, which we were able to create a lot of advantages. Not only take the touring cars off the road. But also to lower the emissions of these visits, because these boats are much more fuel efficient than touring cars. That made it possible to attract a lot of new visitors to the area. That made it possible to raise the revenues of the whole premises. And this was one of the enablers of whole investment program from the government to start investing again, resulting in a completely new visitor center there in Kinderdijk.

Rodney Payne: And did the tourism component of that project also enable a new transportation link for the people that live there? Is it something that the residents use too?

Ruben Lentz: Yeah, it’s quite extraordinary. It’s not just a touristic facility, but it’s combined with the public transport system that people from the cities close by, because at Kinderdijk, there’s not so many inhabitants. A few people are living in the mills, but that’s it, but there are a few cities very close by that also use this system.

And it makes the system as a whole much more durable because you have different groups of people who use it, so you can really use the boats in an optimal sense. 

Rodney Payne: So, how did you approach that project compared to the normal planning process?

Ruben Lentz: We’re very good at taking a step back and looking at what’s really the problem. And I think a bit of design thinking as well. What’s the question behind the real issue that’s being asked there. And here it was not so much about create a new way of transportation to Kinderdijk, it was much more a means to an end. So I think our approach was really like taking a step back, seeing what’s the bigger picture for everyone. Also what connects everybody. Because it’s, for some people, it’s about heritage preservation. And for some people, it’s about a commercial expectation of the boat itself, for instance. So you really have to think about, what’s the value model behind that.

Marieke de Bode: It was not only solving the problem, but also changing the system where you find there were lacks. So not just that one problem, but try to find a more integral way.

Rodney Payne: How do you think about system change?

Ruben Lentz: I think there’s an awareness that’s being raised, of course, over the last few years that a few things cannot continue the way that we do.

 I think what remains is the things that we want to do, the things that we value especially. So I think also in design thinking it’s really important that you understand and engage with this value creation within a certain project. For instance, domestic travel hasn’t really changed in the Netherlands throughout the pandemic.

And I think that’s really the revaluation of your own surroundings. It’s very interesting, but also the impact that it has on this surrounding. So I think, especially for destinations, touristic destinations, it’s very important that people have the feeling like, I visit some place and I at least have a minimal footprint. Maybe even a positive footprint would even be great, but I think that’s the link to system change. You can only achieve that by really taking an integral concept towards a place. 

Rodney Payne: A lot of the things that you think about and talk about are around the circular economy. What do you think tourism’s role is in the circular economy?

Marieke de Bode: If you do it a smart way, you can solve some touristic problems and some circular problems, but you can also do it at the same time. 

Ruben Lentz: What I like about circularity is, often people think about reuse and secondhand materials, those kind of things. But really the higher steps of the ladder are really about refusing and reducing. And that’s really something you can do with tourism because you can make people engage with their own surroundings instead of visiting afar, and you can make sure that we reduce emissions, but also other ways of footprint by making better use of what we already have. 

Marieke de Bode: I think one of our projects we’re doing now is the pilot chain mobilities. That’s. I think a perfect, project where we get to some goals of sustainability on the Drechtstede. Do you know the area of Drechtstede? 

Rodney Payne: No, tell me about it. 

Marieke de Bode: It’s kind of in the south of Rotterdam. It’s the Dordrecht. Maybe you have heard of it. Dordrecht, Zwijndrecht, Papendrecht, Oblastroom. 

Ruben Lentz: It’s a city region just south of Rotterdam, which contains a lot of historic cities and it’s all connected by it. 

Marieke de Bode: And I think the most important touristic hotspot in this region is Kinderdijk. But as Ruben told, Kinderdijk is quite small scale, with a lot of nice mills, but also a dike which needs to bring all those tourists in. And I think a big part of these tourists are the river cruise tourists. So that’s not the big sea cruises with millions of people, but the more small scale river cruise. And actually the river cruise is becoming more popular and they all want to visit Kinderdijk, but Kinderdijk just has one place where the river cruises can dock.

So what they did is that they the river cruise can also dock at other places in the Drechtstede, and then they bring the tourists, as a last mile solution, from that place to Kinderdijk by touring car, so by big buses.

Which is a shame, because it’s not adding to the experience of the tourists, because you’re on a boat on your trip and you’re in Kinderdijk, which is fine, but you’re in the bus for more than 30 minutes, so it’s a pity. And I think it’s also not a good thing at those small dikes in Kinderdijk. So there’s a kind of a traffic congestion over there. 

So what we tried to do is to change the system over there. So we talked a lot with those municipalities, but also with some big cruise liners over there. And also with where we think there are a lot of chances, the water bus. And we try to make up a new system for this last mile transport to Kinderdijk. So for example, the dock of Dordrecht. Dordrecht is quite a nice place, also as a tourist to be. So we want to make a system that these cruise liners can dock in Dordrecht.

And then the water bus will bring them to Kinderdijk and also back or maybe, if they want, to Rotterdam. And this way you add experience, because the tourists go from the cruise liner to the water bus, which is quite cool to be on a water bus for also 30 minutes. And it adds also to the regional development because you don’t have those stinky buses on the dikes.

 I think also the region will it also adds to the maybe economic development of the region itself. So it’s not that people go to Kinderdijk, but now in the future they go to the Drechtstede and they will also maybe go to Alblasterdam and the other smaller villages.

So you can, just with some small changes, adding the water bus, I think the region will be on the map instead of just Kinderdijk. 

Rodney Payne: And can you talk a little bit about the project in Utrecht?

Ruben Lentz: Yeah, sure. It’s a cultural center. Hopefully next year they’ll start building it and it will open in 2025. The idea is that it’s a cultural building, and it creates a new cultural hub. You could say a cluster of different functions, right in the new city center of an extension of the city of Utrecht, actually. So it’s the area of Leidserein, which is a city extension of 90,000 inhabitants. 

It’s very extraordinary for a country like ours that we extend the city in such a way. And it really doesn’t really have a center now. It’s got a shopping center, and all the facilities are there, and they are in very good shape and a train station. More or less one plot left.

What they did is that the municipality was really bold in this by not saying, yeah, we’re just gonna build a feeder there and then that’s it. Then there’s culture in this new city district. But they said, yeah, we’re going to let it grow organically. What they did is create a whole program with a placemaking program with temporary pavilions where these users are in.

Those users will also be the tenants of the final, the permanent building in the end. Normally you have a placemaking program and you say, Okay, thanks for creating a vibrant atmosphere. Let’s go, now we’re going to do something else. But here it’s really connected to each other. 

Rodney Payne: Can you describe the process for planning and consulting with the client for this project, versus what it would normally look like?

Ruben Lentz: What’s important for this project, especially for us, because that’s a part where we focus on, is the co creation part of the process.

 Co creation differs with participation that you really engage people in and also let them have a lot of influence on the design itself. And that really makes this project very special to us, but also I think in a larger sense. 

So we built this whole process together with other parties, of course, this whole process of engaging them with them. And it’s really exciting. They have much more influence in it. It creates two major advantages. One, that they experience ownership over the whole idea. They engage with also the harder parts of a project, which will eventually happen.

And also that you get a lot of intelligence from the end user side already in the project. So, for instance, how you handle logistics. How you create installations that are much more sustainable. And that, yeah, that also relates to the circularity point that I made earlier. It’s not just by, applying secondhand materials. It’s also by looking. What can you reduce? How can you take material out instead of just using sustainable materials? Always better to use no material, of course. It’s always more sustainable. It’s very exciting.

Rodney Payne: Why is it important to be approaching design in this way?

Marieke de Bode: There’s also a non material part of sustainable, so more the social sustainability, and I think if you bring the users, the end users of the product already in the beginning phase of the process, I think at the end, these people will be much more happy and will think twice if they may consider leaving the place or not.

So I think that the space will be better used in multiple ways. I think the connection with the surrounding will also be better, because they know each other now already very good. Yeah. And they know also the residents maybe of the area better. So I think that’s more the social connection to the place, to the building itself, and to the surrounding, which makes it, in my opinion, more social, sustainable.

Rodney Payne: So instead of conceptualizing a development and then trying to sell it to people, you work with people to design something for them.

Ruben Lentz: And the nice thing about it, it creates a sort of humbleness, that you say, it’s not about us, we’re just passing by, always, because you’re just advising. These people live there, or going to use it, or going to create awesome stuff there, so those need to be in charge, and not me as a designer, or a process or a project developer, I like that humbling experience, that you say, okay, taking a step back, You help us.

Rodney Payne: Do you think you can learn a lot from travelling within your own country?

Ruben Lentz: Good question. I think for a real culture shock, it’s always great, of course, to visit other parts of the world. But I still think it’s good for this connection in the country itself.

Marieke de Bode: Just go to the train station and take the first train you see, and then you end in leeuwarden. 

Ruben Lentz: It’s crazy how many places there actually are.

Especially if you want to visit nature in the Netherlands, everybody always goes to the same places. It’s a small country, but it’s not that small. It’s not that there’s just three locations you can go to. But I think by creating alternatives to these major hotspots, you can really, uh, yeah. And we help those locations as well by creating a visitor stream that’s well managed, that combines smart mobility solutions like we discussed before. I think that creates revenue models that you can also use to boost the quality, special quality of the area, but also natural quality. Yeah.

Rodney Payne: How do you think about the future of mobility?

Ruben Lentz: We already have a lot that we can reuse. So we’re very enthusiastic about transport over water, for instance. I think it’s a good example of how you can apply infrastructure that’s already there, that’s also pleasant to use, and it’s very energy efficient, towards the daily urban system of a lot of people, but we have to create very good propositions. It’s a complex world. People are busy. Connect their smart connections with other modalities. So, for instance, a scooter when you need it. Maybe sometimes a car, a metro, a lighter train, a boat, whatever. We have to make connections very good, I think, yeah.

Rodney Payne: What do you think? 

Marieke de Bode: Well, I think if you see it, a lot of cities in the Netherlands do have some rivers streaming through the city.

And I think there’s more awareness that these waterways through the cities shouldn’t be seen as barriers, but more just, let’s use them. And I think Rotterdam is already kind of in that way to think that, but then you need to transfer people from A to B and they build bridges. But then you kind of create problems because a bridge needs to bring all those people from very narrow streets to the other side of the water.

And I think if you make a vision of mobility from the perspective of the water, you are more flexible, because you cannot move a bridge or you cannot adjust a bridge if there is a new mobility system. That’s very expensive to change this bridge. But I think you have more flexibility to change the mobility over water because you can, it’s not just move a dock, but actually it is just move a dock, and then the system can be changed.

So I think by making bridges, we’re creating the problems, because those bridges are not endless.

Rodney Payne: I really appreciate you guys giving some time to sit down and talk this afternoon. It’s fascinating to hear how you think about design and how that can help to make better places.

Ruben Lentz: Happy to have you guys here. Very nice. 

Rodney Payne: Awesome. Thanks, guys. 

David Archer: Well, as we heard from the team at BLOC, collaboration and creative problem solving with all sorts of different stakeholders is key to their progress. And the same is true for students at the inHolland Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab in Amsterdam, and that’s led by Roos Gerritsma. And with this program, they physically occupy space in a certain area for years to make sure that their regenerative tourism projects aren’t just ideas that get tossed around for a university term, but so that residents can see them come to life over a series of years as well.

In today’s final stop, we’ll hear from Roos, who is the assistant professor and lab lead, and Andromeda Achiaa, a graduate student with the tourism lab.

Roos Gerritsma: So my name is Roos Gerritsma. I am a resident and a visitor of Amsterdam. I am an urban sociologist and I work as a associate professor, and I’m the Founder and Lab Lead of the Urban & Leisure Tourism Lab in Amsterdam.

Andromeda Achiaa: My name is Andromeda Achiaa. I am a fourth year student for the Tourism Management. And I am a graduate student for the Urban & Leisure Tourism Lab. And I am also a northerner myself. I live in the north of Amsterdam. And I am actually initiating a project for the district.

Rodney Payne: Okay, “We should be able to deploy leisure and tourism as a positive strategy to turn the tide in terms of climate change and inclusivity, as well as reducing loneliness and poverty.” That’s inspiring. Can you tell me about it? 

Roos Gerritsma: Yeah. When we consider leisure and tourism as strategies for potential positive change we to think about how. So what we erected is a living lab. We consider the city as one big living lab, and we work from a quadruple helix perspective. Quadruple helix implies that we incorporate the perspectives of not only the policy makers from the city district level, or whole city, or even province, or national, or international perspective, but also from entrepreneurs, commercial entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. 

The third perspective means the end user, which in our context is the visitor, and the resident, and the whole mobility spectrum of that. And the fourth perspective is the knowledge institutes, academia, and that’s where we come in. 

We’re working based from wicked challenges, and what we say is that we try to come up with small-scale solutions for wicked problems. And we do this by incorporating all those perspectives, this quadruple helix. And since maybe one half year, two years, we add a fifth to it, quintuple helix, and that’s the perspective of nature. That’s where the whole what we could say climate change topics come in as well. So the more than human perspective, we try to incorporate that as well. 

Another thing that we do differently, compared to how we used to work is the time dimension. So before, I would go to commissioning clients and say dear, whatever, which kind of stakeholders? Only one single stakeholder. What would you like to have? Okay, this is what we’re going to do with students or with researchers. 

But we do one thing really differently. We say we’re here to stay. We’re here for three to five years. And immediately you see people having a different energy. It’s not, oh, there’s another group of students coming for a few weeks, getting everything out of me and delivering something that we use or might not use. It implies that we are there for the longer term. It gives us time and possibilities to build up trust. When we think about community capacity building, that’s not something you do in like, you know, a few weeks. It takes years. And Andromeda will explain and give a good example of this, how she builds up trust, how she worked with our local ecosystem. 

Your first question, I understand. So what does it mean? But we not necessarily talk about the why, but the how seems to be much more complicated. How do we actually provoke this change? And, for now, because we are a learning community and learning institute ourselves as well, we realize that it comes in small steps. And before we even can talk about creating massive tourism, which of course we don’t want, but, I mean, complete tourism packages, we realize that we need to work the ground. Sometimes we call ourselves urban gardeners, and fertilizing the soil, which is really focusing on social design, social innovation, and trying to get all those four or five perspectives into account. 

Rodney Payne: Your master’s degree 20 years ago dealt with Amsterdam residents and their attitude to tourism and tourists. How has that conversation shifted?

Roos Gerritsma: Thank you for asking this, because one of the outcomes 20 years ago was that more or less one third of the residents wasn’t happy with tourism. One third didn’t really care, and one third was really happy about it. And those numbers aren’t really different nowadays. So, the role of the media is very important. It seems that those people who have really difficulties, uh, with tourism or with noise in their daily life, seems to have a bigger voice or a loudest voice.

We also know that almost 10 percent of the residents of Amsterdam work in the tourism or tourism and leisure-related industries. And as you also might know, is that tourism is partly local or hyperlocal in Amsterdam. 

Some things change, of course. And I think the biggest change has to do with the tourism policy making. The shift in more than 20 years ago. Come to Amsterdam, we have something to show and share with you. And quite active marketing around all this. And this also had to do with, you know, coming from the 80s and regenerating city life. And I think, one of the biggest challenges we’re now facing is how are we going to create tourism policies in a participative way?

One of the research projects that I’m working on for the last three years with colleagues, by the way and also in 11 different cities like Barcelona, Venice and so on. Is that we ask core stakeholders in Amsterdam, who sits at the table when it comes down to tourism policymaking in Amsterdam. And you know what? 

There wasn’t just one image. Everyone has a different idea about it. So, for instance, a policymaker would put the resident right in the center. He is also being invited and has an influence. But a resident would say, no, we’re not invited. We’re on the outskirts of the table.

One of the titles of the papers we’re currently writing is, “Nobody Oversees It All.” 

There’s not one director. I think it underlines the complexity of tourism. Tourism is not an isolated sector. It’s connected with many different systems, so we need an inter-systemic approach. And regenerative design or regenerative tourism or regenerative placemaking seems to incorporate all these kind of issues. Being aware of inter-systemic change and need. The participative side of it. The not wanting to… To steer too much bottom up. And I think coming back to your questions, 20 years ago we didn’t oversee the complexity of how tourism and mobility issues and energy and waste issues are all intertwined, and all having an impact on our current and future life in cities.

Rodney Payne: Andromeda, could you tell me a little bit about the program that you’re involved in and the project you’re working on? 

Andromeda Achiaa: The project that I’m working on is the story bench, which is quite of a simple concept. It’s actually a bench where there’s a QR code and people could scan the code and then they will be reverted to a platform where all the stories are placed.

And the stories are actually only stories about the northerners themselves. So personal stories, stories telling about what makes the North their home. Why is it so great to live in this district? What makes the place so special to them? And it’s actually to bring more connecting and more cohesion in the community, because that’s one of the things actually drifting away. the cohesion. Storytelling has a fundamental role to the community and overall, but also to bring people together, and that’s what story bench is for, actually.

Rodney Payne: Do you think communities have become disconnected?

Andromeda Achiaa: In the northern part, it has been a little bit over the years, has been disconnecting. And it has also something to do with, there’s a lot of going on in, in the north of Amsterdam, like gentrification, the rise of housing prices, and not enough connectivity between the new people coming to live at the northern part, but also the old people who’ve already lived there. There’s no connection between the two. So, indeed, the connection in the community is drifting away. And I would like to, with Storybench, to actually help it a little bit. 

Roos Gerritsma: It’s a conversation starter.

Andromeda Achiaa: Yeah, exactly. 

Rodney Payne: How can stories change the world?

Andromeda Achiaa: I think stories bring awareness people. But also, stories can connect. Someone’s story can be really engaging to you, which will spark something inside of you to perhaps motivate you to do something. Stories can be extremely beneficial in the community itself.

It can help you, it can bring awareness, and storytelling, for in this district, I think it can be very beneficial to the older northerners to tell their story, like, how they experienced, before everything changed, and then the new northerners can understand how the old north used to be and how they can be more of a benefit to the, to the community to become more aware of the things that are actually going on and be more helpful to each other.

Roos Gerritsma: May I add to that because, in North, there’s a huge debate, old northerners, new northerners, and it has to nothing do with age. It’s being born, being locally born or rooted somewhere. And I think what we’re trying to do is, okay, but what’s our shared story? Cause, when we keep staying in the old, new, or we, them, it’s not helpful, we think. So that’s also why we’re using stories to create future collective stories. What’s our shared story for this part of the city? But also the city as a whole and beyond, of course. And I think people need positive stories.

Rodney Payne: When you spend time working on and thinking about the big problems the world, it can get overwhelming. How do you deal with that, and what brings you joy?

Andromeda Achiaa: If I see it from the perspective of my project, I find it joyful that you’re actually not going to be the student who comes to you and asks you something, and you will not see the results of it, but to actually be the person who’s going to make something and actually implement something. And I find it extremely motivating when people are actually interested in the idea and would like to participate as well, and when we see that it brings joy to them, that they get to share their story, that actually makes me happy. 

Roos Gerritsma: She’s a regenerative student. She’s adding. She’s, she’s having a positive impact on the community. And, indeed, you’re such a good listener, and people trust you. And you’ll say, oh, Roos, really takes time to build up trust. Yeah, so be there, be in the field, and you do. 

We’re working in a cultural hub, which is also a café, and it’s also, a boutique for changing clothes for free, for instance. And you’re just there, being present. It’s place-based leadership also. And people get to know you and you’re really able to create this, yeah, feeling of trust, and then adding positive things towards. 

Rodney Payne: Last question. If I gave a magic wand, and you could change anything, What would you change?

Andromeda Achiaa: So if I could change something in the I would, I would like to change that there’s no haters in the world, that people wouldn’t judge each other. And that there would be more kindness, ‘ cause I think that be probably solve all the problems in the world. Because I guess even with war, people have judgments They are hated to each other, and they don’t respect each other. I think if that was out of the world, the world would be probably, it’d be a little bit of a better place.

Roos Gerritsma: I have nothing to add to this wisdom. I mean, love and kindness. Yeah, I think it would be an excellent starting point. Yeah. Thank you.

I learned a lot from her.

David Archer: Well, love and kindness is a nice note to end on. This has been Travel Beyond, presented by Destination Think, and you just heard from quite a few people. Jeannette Verdonk of Blue City, Birk Heijkans from Restaurant Rotonde, Marieke de Bode and Ruben Lentz of BLOC, and Roos Gerritsma and Andromeda Achiaa of Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab in Amsterdam.

Thank you all so much for your participation this season.

We’ll include links to more resources on the blog for this episode at DestinationThink.com. This episode has been produced and has theme music composed by me, David Archer. My co-producer is Sarah Raymond be Booy.

Lindsay Payne and Annika Rautiola provided production support. We would like to thank NBTC, the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions for all their support in creating this podcast season with us and for sharing their vision with all of you. You can help more people find this show by subscribing to future episodes and by leaving a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

Thanks for joining us this season, and please stick around for more conversations with leaders of sustainability and regeneration in the travel industry. We have lots more coming soon, and I can’t wait to share them with you. Thanks again, and we’ll see you next time.


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