Wetenschap - 7 juli 2011

HERE! is the spot for you

What is the ideal destination for you in the Netherlands? After five years of www.daarmoetikzijn.nl, Martin Goossen of Alterra can tell you with statistical accuracy. And the answer is surprising.

Daarmoetikzijn.nl is a website dedicated to helping people find the perfect spot in the Netherlands for them, whether for a holiday, a cycling weekend or a day's walk. For example, you might be looking for a peaceful wood dotted with heathland. Or, on the other hand, for open meadows with plenty of water in the vicinity. But you don't want the beach, because you like your peace and quiet. And, oh yes, ideally there would be some hills and a couple of attractions not too far away. Daarmoetikzijn.nl undertakes to find you your dream location in three steps. Parts of the Netherlands that you had never considered. The website is the smart brainchild of Martin Goossen and his Alterra colleagues Henk Meeuwsen and Japp Franke. Goossen, who does research on recreation and tourism, got involved purely by chance. A classic way of getting your data is through a questionnaire, but that is a lot of work and can be expensive. 'I ran into my colleague Henk Meeuwsen in the canteen, and he told me he was identifying the ideal habitats of certain animals. I wondered if we could do the same for people.' Together with the ministry of EL&I and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency PBL, a plan was then drawn up for a website that would identify landscape preferences. A site that did not just generate data but also gave people something in return: travel advice. Daarmoetikzijn.nl was launched in 2006.

Forest and water 
The website asks its visitors to make 15 choices concerning their ideal landscape. If they wish, they can proceed to give their various preferences a weighting. Then they just have to fill in a couple of personal details (postcode, age), click on a button and hey presto! There is your personalized 'ideal' map of the Netherlands. In colour, with green for the places to be and red for the places you definitely want to keep away from.
Over the past five years a quarter of a million visitors have found their way to Daarmoetikzijn.nl. According to Goossen, that has led to the creation of 33,000 unique and useful dream maps of the Netherlands. At the behest of the ministry, he has analysed and collated the data on these maps.
Forest and water score highest: at least two thirds of the Dutch see forest as their ideal landscape. A good half of them want ditches, streams, rivers and ponds in the vicinity. And more than one third would like large lakes or the sea nearby.
There is nothing very earth-shattering about this: it is no news that the Dutch like forests and water. But Goossen now knows exactly how much of each landscape element the average Dutch person would like to see as part of the perfect landscape. That is, for example, 30 percent forest, 20 percent lake or sea, 19 percent heath, sand or dunes. What comes out is a non-existent landscape. The Dutch want too much. Goossen: 'In fact, everyone wants diversity, a sort of patchwork landscape.'

Top three
So the ideal landscape doesn't exist. But we can get close. On the basis of the data, Goossen came up with a top three.  In joint first place are the small village of 't Loo (in Oldebroek municipality) and Nijverdal (in Hellendoorn municipality). These areas match two thirds of the requirements of the average Dutch person's ideal landscape. A close third is the area south of Drunen in the Brabant municipality of Heusden.
't Loo as dream landscape? This reporter did not exactly find himself plunged straight into a holiday mood by a visit to this little village in the north-west corner of the Veluwe. In fact I thought it might even qualify as the ugliest village in the Netherlands. A bit scruffy and with very few facilities. Goossen understands my surprise. 'This is not Holland's top attraction, it's true. But 't Loo and Nijverdal are areas that meet the average profile for the ideal landscape. They are agricultural areas, but they also have forest and heath; in fact, a bit of everything.' According to Goossen, the only reason 't Loo is not heaving with tourists is that it is not well known. 'People do not know enough about the Dutch landscape. They decide their holiday destination on the basis of what they know or what they have heard from family, friends or colleagues. They have no idea how beautiful the Netherlands is, and what you can find here.' What is more, he says, putting his top three in perspective, this gives you an average. 'The average Dutch person doesn't exist. By the way, did you know there was a Landal Greenpark in 't Loo?' As if to say: see, my selection isn't that strange after all.
Along with the winners, there are losers too of course. And they won't surprise anyone: the western harbour area of Amsterdam and the urban area between Rotterdam and Schiedam bring up the rear.

Halfway house
Five years of Daarmoetikzijn.nl should give us a pretty good idea of our preferences. For example, do we have a preference for the type of landscape where we live ourselves?  Do we choose landscapes that remind us of home, or do we always go for the greener grass on the other side of the hill? Goossen has found a surprising answer to the latter question. 'We look for a landscape that is a halfway house between the two. People want more of what they don't have much of and less of what they have a lot of. Someone who lives in an open agricultural area wants more forest, but not as much as the average Dutch person. And it works the same the other way round. Someone with a lot of forest near their home wants a bit less of it on holiday; but still more than average. So we might want something different, but we don't want something completely different.'
Policymakers can learn a lot from his findings, thinks Goossen. Such as: 'The Dutch are not keen on upscaling in agriculture, industrial estates, horizon pollution and noise pollution.' Or: 'State Secretary Bleker really wants to stimulate agrarian nature management. But the enthusiasm for forest is twice as big as that for a small-scale agricultural landscape.'
Goossen's data are a potential gold mine for fellow-researchers and the VVV tourism offices. In order to draw more tourists to Wageningen, for example, Goossen can find out where many of the people live who have a preference for the landscape around this city. Then advertising can target them. But the VVVs and municipalities are not queuing up. Which puzzles Goossen a bit.

Holiday planner
Sooner or later, Daarmoetikzijn will be going beyond the Dutch borders. A pilot version (myplacetobe) has been online for a while already. But Goossen is not satisfied with it yet. The website will be a good deal more user-friendly than Daarmoetikzijn. 'The website will concentrate on European holidays, based on the question: what type of holiday do you want? So it's a sort of holiday planner.' Goossen makes clear that it is not yet certain whether all this will go ahead. A question of funding.
Home is best
Wageningen residents rate their own area at grade 7.4 out of 10. That is higher than the average of 6.9 that the Dutch give their own home area. The 7.4 is based on the 705 Wageningen residents who have put together their personal maps on Daarmoetikzijn.nl. So they are pretty satisfied with their surroundings. The Daarmoetikzijn map that goes with Wageningen (postcode) 6701AA) is quite green. That means that there are a fair number of places in the Netherlands with a landscape similar to that of this postcode area and the immediate (5x5 km) vicinity.

'Not enough for the consumer'
'It is a very handy tool for the researchers', thinks extraordinary professor of Tourism and Sustainable Development René van der Duim. 'You get an incredible amount of data and a big potential pool of people you can approach for follow-up research. That is fantastic. But from the consumer's point of view, you might reach a different conclusion.' Van der Duim looked at the website and put together his own ideal map, at Resource's request. One of the places the map suggests for him is the Wadden islands. 'And that is right. Texel is one of my favourite destinations'. But what else can you do with it? That's as far as it takes you at the moment, says Van der Duim. It doesn't take the step into the user's point of view. 'If you click on your ideal destination you want a bit more than a place name and a postcode. I would like to be linked straight on to the VVV, so that you can immediately get the tourist information you need. Another question is whether this is really the way consumers make their decisions. Landscape elements are not the only criteria. There are many more variables involved which are important for the choice, such as your companions, for example, or the activities you want to do, or the distance. As a consumer I use the website zoover.nl. That gives a lot of information as well as reviews of locations by visitors. It would be nice if daarmoetikzijn.nl could be linked to that site.'