Saturday, 6 February 2016

A few more points..

There are some more aspects of Groninger tourism I'd like to point out.

Bourtange (source:
In the beginning of this blog, I wrote about the tourist gaze, which meant that tourists have certain expectations about the place of visit and that locals tend to act up to that expectations. I then said that this wasn't the case in Groningen. I still think this is true, for the most part. However, there is one place in Groningen where this does happen on a regular basis: Bourtange. Bourtange is a semi-medieval village in the countryside, which still is in the state that it supposedly was around 500 years ago. Tourists go there with the expectation of experiencing life in a fortified village, and the 'locals' (actors) dress up like knights and soldiers to meet that expectation. This is a nice example of the tourist gaze in Groningen.

Another thing I'd like to point out is another form of tourism that is rather typical for the Netherlands in general: drug tourism and sex tourism.  Even though most tourists that seek this kind of adventures goes to Amsterdam, this kind of tourism is very vivid in Groningen. There are 13 coffee shops in the city alone, and about 10 more drug-related shops (smartshops/growshops). This makes Groningen ideal for an anonymous drug tourist.

Nieuwstad (source:
I live next to the (now) only red light district, Nieuwstad, and I've experienced that a large part of the customer is indeed foreign (mostly German or English) and thus a (possible) sex tourist. Striking (and sometimes rather irritating) is that the red light district is the only touristic part of Groningen that is opened for public almost 24/7.

With this post, I tried to show that there might be some exceptions to the things I've stated in this blog, and that I haven't discussed everything that includes tourism in Groningen.

all the coffee shops in Gronigen (source:


Identifying tourists

Tourism has developed over the years into one of the main institutions in our society. It has become more global, which means that tourists can travel wherever they want, all over the world. This has caused a situation in which tourism has become something for the mass. Tourism has become mass tourism, and has become very diverse. Tourists nowadays all have different goals in their travels. Tourism has become something that is normal, an almost lowbrow activity. The term 'tourist' almost has become a negative concept (Edensor, 2009).

The globalization of tourism implies that you can find any sort of people anywhere in the world, and that any kind of people can visit places anywhere in the world. Does this translate to tourism in Groningen?

First,  mass tourism in Groningen doesn't really seem to be a thing. Of course a part of the city is designed for tourism, with hotels and the tourist information offices (VVV), but the scale on which this takes place is not as big as other cities in the Netherlands, like Amsterdam or The Hague. When walking in Groningen, you get the idea that it's more like a large village than the biggest city of the northern Netherlands. In the province, there are some places that are designed for tourism, like Bourtange, but there are no huge theme parks or other kinds of 'tourist magnets', just a few festivals around the city, like Eurosonic, Noorderzon and de Bloemetjesmarkt.

Bloemetjesmarkt in Groningen (source:
Each year, around April, a large flower festival (Bloemetjesmarkt) takes place in Groningen. This draws a lot of tourists to the city, most of which are German. This is likely, because Groningen is relatively close for Germans who want to go out for just a day or two. And of course, the occasional Asian tourist can be found wandering about.

Tim Edensor (2009). Tourism.

A bunch of farmers

A few blog posts ago, I addressed the importance of narratives in tourism, which addressed the fact that the way that people look at a place they visit is influenced by stories and images they see and hear from that placeI talked about how people might see Groningen in a positive way, but there also might be a negative image to Groningen, caused by narratives. The way that this negative image is implanted in peoples' minds is mostly through (social) media.

In recent years, a few problems in Groningen have made it to the local news. The biggest and most recent scoop is on the earthquakes in the north of the province. Due to the harvesting of gas by the gas company (the NAM), there have been a lot of earthquakes caused by the subsidence caused by the shrinking of the underground gas bubble. A lot of reporters from national TV rushed to Groningen to interview the commoners on the streets. Many of those reporters, especially from networks like POWNED, succeed to interview the most 'simple-minded' people, thus reinforcing the negative stereotype of the people in Groningen.

In my experience, this actually has an impact on the public opinion about Groningen. Whenever I go to, for instance, Amsterdam, and I tell people that I'm from Groningen, some of them start laughing and ask me if I'm a farmer, because 'it's all just a bunch of farmers up there right?'.
Now back to the tourism side. I think that this negative image of Groningen has a negative effect on the entire province, including tourism. A negative image means that a lot of people will not come and visit Groningen because they don't see it as a place worth visiting, it's not seen as a highlight of the Netherlands. That's a shame, because it's just so pretty!
cracks in the wall due to earthquakes (source:


The big city

Big cities all around the world, like Berlin, are constantly changing. These changes also include tourism in a city.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, tourism in Berlin really started to explode, even though the city struggled financially because a lot of big companies had left after World War 2. The upcoming tourism sector, however, was and still is one of the reasons of the transformation of the city into a touristic highlight. Berlin is said to be attractive because of the (quite) recent pas with WW2 and the Cold War, because of its landscapes and parks, because of the image of constant transition and the open-minded mindset of the city (Novy & Huning, 2009).

Stadsschouwburg Groningen (source:
Even though Groningen is not as big as Berlin (not even close), the two cities can be compared when looking at the aspects named above, to see what might make Groningen famous. First of all, Groningen is not quite as 'historical' as Berlin. Sure, Groningen has a few old buildings and churches like the Martini- and A-church and the Stadsschouwburg, and in the province some historical farms and villages (like Bourtange), but is doesn't have the humongous historical context that Berlin has. Groningen does have some nice parks, like the Noorderplantsoen and the Stadspark. Even though Groningen might not have the image of 'constant transition' (always being in the process of becoming and never meaning to be - Karl Scheffer), it has the image of a young city, with lots of young citizens who can become whatever they want to be. The mindset of the Groningers might not be that open-mind though, especially in the suburbs and province.

In conclusion, the aspect that make Berlin attractive for tourists don't really apply to Groningen. This might explain the difference in size between the two. What do you think?

Johannes Novy & Sandra Huning (2009): New tourism (area's) in the 'New Berlin'.

Der A-kerk (photo by Reimer Vonk)

Friday, 5 February 2016

Groningen, city of music

In a guest lecture by dr. Louis-Manuel Garcia , dr. Garcia described the vivid music scene of Berlin, mostly the Techno-part of the music scene, and he described many tourists coming to Berlin only for the techno-scene.

In the article related to this observation, Garcia describes the typical techno-tourist, that comes to Berlin to take part in techno-related events. The article states that the techno-scene in Berlin is famous all around the world, and thus brings a lot of extra tourists to Berlin, which has a huge impact in the tourism business in the city.

So, the music scene in Berlin draws a lot of extra tourists. What about Groningen?

Well, as said before, a city gets a lot of extra tourists if the music scene in the city is famous or
notorious. In my opinion, the music scene in Groningen has been developing over the years and has now become a pretty popular place for music. The biggest example for this is the Eurosonic/Noorderslag festival, a large annual showcase festival, where famous and not yet famous bands from all over the world come to perform. In the weeks around this festival, the city is buzzing with tourists, as I've noticed last January. This festival has a very good reputation among artists and music fanatics, and brings a lot of tourism to Groningen.

As a direct consequence of this growing reputation, the several musical venues in Groningen are offering bigger names to the people each year. In the last years, famous bands like Megadeth, the Robert Cray Band, Limp Bizkit and Kasabian, performed in the Oosterpoort, one of the two large stages in Groningen. Also Vera, another, smaller stage, offers some nice acts each year, which I like very much. All of this brings even more tourists to Groningen.

Vera Groningen (source:


Garcia, L.M. (2015). Techno-tourism and post-industrial neo-romanticism in Berlin’s electronic dance music scenes, DOI: 10.1177/1468797615618037

Dark tourism for David Bowie

Dark tourism seems to be a way of tourism that is growing vastly among tourists. Due to recent events, this also has become a pretty large part of popular tourism in Groningen.

Dark tourism is a concept that describes a way of tourism that is focused on, for example, death, atrocities, disaster and emotions (Lennon & Foley, 2000; Ryan, 2005; Sharpley & Stone, 2008). This could explain why more and more tourist agencies offer tours to war zones and places of disaster, like Palestine or Ground Zero in New York. Places like this are attractive to many tourists because of the feelings and emotions they bring up.

As you might know from recent events, the multi-talented artist David Bowie passed away on the 10th of January. As you might also know, there is a travelling art exhibition that exhibits all of David Bowies paintings, pieces of art and many of his original clothes and attributes. It just so happened to be that this art exhibition was in Groningen at the time of Bowies death (coincidence?). At the day of Bowies passing, the Groninger Museum was supposed to be closed, as it was a Sunday, but after the news had arrived in Groningen, the museum board decided to open the doors for many grieving fans. After his death, the demand for tickets has rocketed sky-high, so much that the museum has already extended it's opening hours and elongated the exhibition by four weeks to meet the demand.

This is a clear case of dark tourism in Groningen. Chances are that, if Bowie hadn't died, the museum wouldn't have had as much visitors. So many people want to take a look at pieces of the legend that was David Bowie, and even more decided they wanted to do that that after he had died. Pretty dark, right?
David Bowie (RIP)

Lennon, J. J., & Foley, M. (2000). Dark tourism. London: Continuum

Ryan, C. (2005). Dark tourism: An introduction. In C. Ryan, S. Page & M. Aiken (eds), Taking tourism to the limits: Issues, concepts and managerial perspectives (pp. 187-190). Oxford: Elsevier.
Stone, P., & Sharpley, R. (2008). Consuming dark tourism: A thanatological perspective. Annals of Tourism Research, 35 (2), 574–595. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2008.02.003

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Even more accessible?

In my last blog post, I addressed the accessibility of the city centre of Groningen for disabled people, and the possible lack of accessibility. In this post, I only talked about the accessibility of the city centre of Groningen, but of course there's much more in the suburbs or in the province of Groningen.

In my opinion, accessibility consists not only from the extent to which a place or venue is accessible for disabled people, but also how easily they can get to that place on their own. To measure this kind of accessibility, one has to look at how easy it is to travel to a touristic venue for people with any form of impairment. This means that a lace should be reachable mostly by public transport in order to be accessible, because, for example, places that are only reachable by car, foot or bike are not very much accessible, because it would be a lot harder for disabled people to reach them on their own.

In the province of Groningen, most places are easy to reach by bus or train, especially the more touristic areas. Many touristic areas, like the historical city of Bourtange, are reachable by bus and train, be it easy or be it hard. Busses and trains go from the central station to the suburbs and many towns in the province every half hour on average, and for some places you can take the bus or train from Groningen and get there by transferring to another bus or train along the way. Seems accessible, right?

I think that there still are some problems. Places might be reachable by public transport, but it is likely that getting in and out of the bus or train. This might not be the case for every disabled person, but still might make a lot of places less accessible. 

An overview of all the busses, where they go and where they leave (photo by Reimer Vonk)

The bus station in central Groningen (photo by Reimer Vonk)

Accessible Groningen

In tourism nowadays, there already is attention for people with handicaps and disabilities to some extent. However, there are some researched in the field of tourism that claim that there should be a lot more attention and anticipation for the disabled, with a lot more adaptations to them. This is described in the concept of accessibility (McIntosh & Gillovic, 2015).

Accessibility in tourism is described as the extent to which touristic features are accessible to disabled people. In their article, McIntosh and Gillovic (2015) address the fact that disabled people are often forgotten or even discriminated in tourism. Airplanes are not suitable for wheelchairs, and people with disabilities are often not understood by the personnel of tourist venues and/or the personnel of the airlines. This makes venues inaccessible for disabled tourists, and, following the authors, this should be banned.

So how accessible is Groningen? If I take a look at the city centre, there are a few thing I notice. First is that the streets are pretty accessible to wheelchairs, as they are flat and wide. I also see that certain buildings, like the Korenbeurs on the Vismarkt, have adapted to handicapped with a small ramp next to the stairs for wheelchairs.

However, when I look further, I see some pretty disappointing features. First is that the main touristic venues, except for the Museum, are not wheelchair accessible, for instance the Martini Tower, which doesn't have an elevator. People with other disabilities, like being blind or deaf, could climb the tower, but the city center is not very accessible to them. Yes, the city has been made almost car-free, but there are still a lot of cyclists. But the city centre itself is accessible to disabled people, some touristic highlights are not. Does that make Groningen inaccessible to disabled tourists?

The Korenbeurs with the ramps on the down left and right side (source:


Brielle Gillovic Alison McIntosh , (2015),"Stakeholder perspectives of the future of accessible tourism in New Zealand", Journal of Tourism Futures, Vol. 1 Iss 3 pp. 223 - 239

What about Groningen?

As a citizen of Groningen, I pretty much have an insiders' point of view of the city. But how do people from outside of the city see Groningen?

First some theory, namely the concept of narratives in tourist interaction (McCabe & Foster, 2006), which describes that the way that tourists see the place they're going to is influenced by stories of friends and other tourists. This means that the image that the place has left with visitors will be transferred to other possible visitors through their stories and pictures, for example. Thus, shared experiences will influence the image of the city.

The 'Academiegebouw' of the University (photo by Reimer Vonk)
So what do people think of Groningen? As it is hard to measure many opinions about Groningen , I will look at what (foreign) tourist sites have to say. One of the most popular sites, Lonely Planet, says that Groningen might seem far away from 'the rest of the Netherlands', but that it has a lot to offer. Most features that are mentioned on Lonely Planet are also addressed in my previous blog posts, namely the Martini Tower and the Groninger Museum. It also states that, because of the university, there are a lot of young people, and that the centre is very calm because of the traffic ban. Another tourist site, Virtual Tourist, also points out these features, and adds that tourists should watch out for all the bikers. Lonely Planet states that Groningen is a city that has to offer something for everybody, with museums, the nightlife and the overall atmosphere. 

So how would this affect the tourists' view on Groningen? They'll probably see Groningen as a city with an easy and laid-back atmosphere, and with a certain grandeur with all the churches and buildings. This seems rather positive. I agree with this view on Groningen. Do you?

Bikes in front of the Central Station (source:

Scott McCabe & Clare Foster (2006) The Role and Function of Narrative in Tourist Interaction, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 4:3, 194-215, DOI: 10.2167/ jtcc071.0
Lonely Planet on Groningen:

Virtual Tourist on Groningen:

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Gazing Groningen

The Tourist Gaze (John Urry, 1991) is a concept that defines the way tourists look at something that something that is unusual and different from everyday sights. Tourists are looking for an authentic experience of the places they visit. The Tourist Gaze is a summary of all the expectations that tourists have of the local people and the city itself, and the way locals behave.
the Groninger Museum (photo by Reimer Vonk

So how does this apply to Groningen? To see what tourists might expect when they go to Groningen, we can take a look at several  sites with information about Groningen, and check which places are seen as a highlight of Groningen. When looking at the site for tourism information about Groningen, one massive event draws the attention: the David Bowie exhibition in the Groninger Museum. Looking at the English Wikipedia page of Groningen, the first thing that is mentioned also happens to be the Groninger Museum. On both websites, a lot of pictures of the Martini Tower and the Groninger Museum can be spotted. Also, by mentioning the Universities, the image is given of a 'young' city.

So, are the Groninger Museum and the Martini Tower also the most touristic places in Groningen? I think they are. The exhibition of David Bowie has brought a lot of people from outside of Groningen to the city, and the Martini Tower is the most prominent structure in the city's' skyline and on pictures of Groningen. This is what people expect when they come to Groningen, this is their 'gaze', their main focus in Groningen. Also, tourists might expect to see a lot of young people in Groningen. In my experience, this is also true. So, in conclusion, the tourist gaze on Groningen consists mainly of the Groninger Museum and the Martini Tower. Do you agree?

The recognizable top of the Martini Tower. (photo by Reimer Vonk)
Urry, J. (1991). The Tourist Gaze
Groningen Wiki page:

Groningen Tourist information:
Lonely Planet about Groningen: