Destination Category Finalist
In Limburg, the southernmost region of the Netherlands, there's a beautiful area called Hill Country, where many Dutch people used to take their summer holidays. But like so many popular national destinations, the growth of foreign travel in the latter part of the 20th century saw its popularity and economic prosperity dramatically decline. However, while this problem has been one common to many regions, the solution Limburg found was an unusual one.
The region next to the Hill Country is called Parkstad. Unlike its beautiful neighbour, its history is one defined by coal mining. Between 1920 and 1974, the growth of mining resulted in Parkstad growing from a few villages to becoming home to some 250,000 people. But, when foreign coal became cheaper, the Dutch government closed all the mines, and Parkstad's economy suffered, leaving little money to maintain its public buildings or encourage development. fell on hard times that saw its public spaces decline through neglect.
However, while the Hill Country and Parkstad's decline were separate and for such different reasons, their recent resurgence has been achieved through collaboration. For the last 15 years the two have combined on a programme of developing Parkstad as a wet weather tourism destination, complementing the Hill Country’s summer charms and thus turning the pair into a success story of sustainable year-round tourism.
These days, visitors to the former coal mines and slag heaps come to enjoy the likes of: Museum Square Limburg, the Megaland Festival Area, Snowworld Ski & Climbing, and the World Gardens of Mondo Verde. So great has the transformation been ‘From Black to Green’, that in 2009 one attraction, Park Gravenrode, built on the former Oranje Nassau II and Wilhelmina coal mines, became the first destination in the Netherlands to win the EDEN Sustainability Award and be declared a European Destination of Excellence. And 15 years after the scheme began in a region with no income from tourism, Parkstad's turnover in 2015 was € 368 million (ca. $US400million), and now provides 5,800 full time jobs.