Promoting Holland abroad needs vision and tulips
‘Where do you come from?’ is an often heard question when you’re on holiday. Having lived in Asia for many years – and with my Asian look – it’s quite hard to guess that I’m Dutch.
When I answer this question with: I’m from the Netherlands, some of the locals may look puzzled, as our country is more well-known as “Holland”. In general, we have a very positive image abroad, people recognize us as a safe country, below sea level, with beautiful tulips and windmills, where we walk on clogs and smoke weed. And when my husband travels along, our Dutch soccer stars: van Persie, Robben are summed up instantly.
Dutch tulips in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, I had the privilege to work closely with the Dutch Consulate General, and very ambitious Consuls General, who promoted Holland with several focus areas, including agriculture, water management, logistics, creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit. My colleague with the consulate, responsible for the agriculture sector, managed to find sponsors each year, so that we could fly in Dutch tulip bulbs for the Hong Kong Flower show, where 2,000 Dutch tulips were represented. Tulip bulbs are more expensive than cut tulips, as these are heavier in transport. However, with the heat and humidity in Hong Kong, only tulip bulbs will stay beautiful outdoor till the end of the flower show. And I must say that the multi-colour tulips looked beautiful and gives you a true “Keukenhof”-feeling. Keukenhof (kitchen garden) is a world-famous attraction showing everything the Dutch floricultural sector has to offer in the space of eight weeks.
Call to action
Being back in Holland means finding a new opportunity and talking to a lot of international employers. I also spoke with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) at the headquarters in The Hague. While waiting in the reception area, I found a brochure about the MOFA, with best practices and successful stories of doing business abroad. The 56 pages, full-colour brochure – in Dutch only – looks good and is inviting to read. However, what was missing is the ‘how-to’, contact details, or a link to a website for more information. Then I read in the colofon at the back and saw that it was published in June 2010! That explained everything. It’s a 5-year old brochure sitting at the reception area, with no concrete call to action.
World Expo Milan
Living in Europe gives you the opportunity to travel around. One of the things I love is that you can cross borders easily by car. Though, I prefer travelling by plane as it’s efficient and effective. After attending the Urban Transformation Conference in Rotterdam in May – where I learned that Rotterdam is going to bid for hosting the World Expo in 2025 – I decided to visit the World Expo in Milan. I booked my tickets to the fashion city and managed to get a two-day pass to the World Expo.
The expo was impressive, large-scale and it was inspiring to see (and meet) so many different cultures in one day, as if you’re visiting multiple countries in a day. The expo’s theme is food and it was a true delight to taste so many different kinds of food. I was very excited to see the Dutch participation.
While standing in front of the Holland pavilion, I had my question marks. First of all, it was not easy to spot the Holland pavilion as the Dutch flag along the aisle (where other countries’ flags are present) was missing. The Dutch expo slogan is: ‘share, grow, live’, which in my opinion, could be used for any country. As the temperature was rising to 38 degrees in the afternoon, I was looking forward to some air-conditioned area, however I soon found out the Dutch have an outdoor pavilion. I walked around and read about the Dutch infrastructure, wind energy and water management. Also, there was a poster promoting Rotterdam, but I could not find Amsterdam. As a Dutch national, I was not proud to see that our kitchen was represented by mini pancakes, sandwich Dutch stew, cheese, coffee and hotdogs.
I missed the typically Dutch food: pea soup with sausage, kale and sauerkraut. Although I must admit that these winter dishes might be too ‘hot’ at 38 degrees. And how about our Dutch beers, like Heineken, Bavaria, Amstel, Grolsch? As for the exterior of the pavilion, it would be more unique to add creative ideas around tulips, traditional clothing, windmills, and bicycles. Why don’t they turn this into a business opportunity by spreading brochures/ flyers/postcards on ‘Holiday in Holland’ or ‘Investing in The Netherlands’?
Recalling my meeting at the MOFA, I came to the conclusion that it might take more time and patience to see progress. The Dutch government is doing its best to change, by starting online projects and by digitalizing many services. However, it remains a challenge to promote The Netherlands abroad in a consistent way and at a high quality level, as there are many stakeholders (each city has its own focus area and budget), and with the typical Dutch way of doing business – everyone has a say, it’s hard to reach a consensus.
It’s a learning curve and I truly believe that The Netherlands has a lot to gain if all cities would join forces to promote the country’s focus areas, rather than spending small individual budgets on low impact and low quality contributions from individual Dutch cities.
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