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  • Writer's pictureLaura Minca

Going on holiday - still a walk in the park?

The holiday park is an integral feature of The Netherlands, holding popular appeal for decades. But how has it made its mark on the landscape from an architectural, urban, social and economic perspective?

As proponents of thoughtful development, what can we learn from the park’s evolution as new holiday villages are created and second homes renovated to help people balance their needs for adventure and tranquillity in the “Staycation” normal? Can architects and planners respect both the economic needs and existing culture and authenticity of the community?

To help us dig deeper into the topic, we turned to Mieke Dings, architectural and urban historian, and author of Tussen Tent and Villa - het vakantiepark in Nederland 1920-nu.

postcard of a former radar post with bunkers converted into a holiday park - Sondel, circa 1950

Why the holiday park?

What makes the 'holiday park' a settlement type so relevant to the historical evolution of Dutch architectural, urban, and social trends?

The number of holiday parks in the Netherlands is remarkable. It has always been a popular form of holiday accommodation. This in itself makes e holiday park already worth researching from different perspectives. To me, even more interesting is the fact that it is shaped in relation to the daily living environment.

The initiators of the holiday park have always attempted to attract guests, by giving them what they thought those guests wanted. In that sense the holiday park tells us a lot about desire and the shaping and fulfilling of it. Since the holiday park – as a sort of village - is often shaped in relation to (sometimes contrast, sometimes perfection of) the daily living environment, it tells us a lot about the appreciation of this environment.

The holiday park tells us a lot about desire and the shaping and fulfilling of it.

In your book, you state that your research hypothesis is rooted in the idea that the holiday park is not necessarily a counter-structure to the city itself but an alternative experience to the holidaymaker's living environment. Could you tell me more about how this played a role in the 'making of' of the holiday park?

The holiday park always had to present a sort of 'dream' to people to attract them. Since it is constructed along the lines of a “real” village, this dream was always envisioned in relation to daily life. So, if there was a lot of criticism on the city and city life, the holiday park would reflect this and try to present the opposite. But when people started dreaming of a more suburban lifestyle, the holiday park started to reflect this dream and present something similar.

When did 'going on holiday' become a trend, and where did it stem from? Why did people feel the need to escape the 'modernity' of their realities?

For a long time, going on holiday wasn't possible for the majority of people because they didn't have the free time and means for it, even if they would have wanted it. In the 1920s, the first groups of employees started to get some free days or holidays, and decades later, most groups of employees would have at least some days off per year. Because of ‘push-factors’, like the pollution, density and pace in the city, a lot of them fled their modern city life and went to the countryside. And then in the 1960s, the Saturday became a non-working day and the introduction of the free 'weekend' was a fact!

People now started to get more time to really go on holiday. At the same time, they earned much more to actually spend on a holiday. Instead of only fleeing from modernity, they now embraced it too. They started to buy cars, campers and other stuff to celebrate a new, modern lifestyle. In 1960, 40 percent of the population went on a holiday of two or more days. In the 1970s, this percentage rose to more than 50.

Historical highlights

Drawing from your research, the activity of 'camping' was a cultural exercise for city dwellers to get in touch with their primitive side, to stay active and most importantly, experience the wilderness together. What shifts took place in the collective mindset that replaced the need to experience nature in its raw, authentic form with the exotic, artificial landscapes reflected in the archetypal 80s holiday park?

Several. Most important is probably the shift from a cultural ideology to an ideology of personal freedom, which was quickly filled in by the market. At the beginning, the campers as well as the holidaymakers were idealists, trying to educate each other on nature and socialism, or – according to which pillar you were in – religion. This already started to change when more commercial holidaymakers came in. And when in the 1960s the pillars slowly started to dismantle and an ideology of personal freedom and choice became popular, more and more people started to choose amusement instead of (togetherness in) nature. Nature already became a sort of backdrop back then.

When people increasingly started to travel abroad, to more exotic destinations, holidaymakers started to 'spectacularize' their backdrop accordingly: presenting people a Mediterranean fake world.

Nowadays, holidaymakers try increasingly to really contribute positively to nature. That is the way to survival for today’s parks.

A love-hate relationship? Since its early beginnings, the holiday park has always seemed to be met with some degree of resistance - from the 'non-educational' type of recreation Herperduin first proposed when it opened in 1954, to the recently built holiday parks in areas with protected natural status. How has the holiday park survived these controversies, and how have they shaped its image throughout the decades?

I think its concentrated form is what has really helped the holiday park to survive it all. This has been such an important thing in the Netherlands, from a viewpoint of social regulation/control as from a viewpoint of spatial regulation/control. Resistance has indeed always been there, but at least the concentrated form helped to control it. Special rules could be made for this area only. In the beginning the social control was quite important to prevent clashes between adventurous urbanites and conservative locals and later on the spatial control became more and more important. The concentrated holiday parks would spare further impacts on nature. Nowadays, holidaymakers try increasingly to really contribute positively to nature. That is the way to survival for today’s parks.

Agent admonishes bathers in swimming suits, 1921

Is the holiday park a trendsetter for the broader architectural and urban movements going on beyond its boundaries? Would it be fair to identify it as a testbed for new ideas, a space where architects, planners and engineers can experiment freely with unique design and planning strategies?

It has been, for sure. Mainly a testbed for the Existenzminimum. What do people really need to live? Architects like Rietveld and Bakema were really interested in this. And because regulations were lighter then regulations for regular houses, architects had more freedom to test ideas. These also included ideas on configurations of houses: how much privacy do people need? How can one gently lead people by placing plants, varying pavements etc.? In that sense, the present 'tiny house' movement is an interesting one with regards to holiday homes: this is the holiday house becoming a normal house.

Zooming out even further, you refer to the holiday park as an instrument of economic planning. Could you briefly talk to me about its influence on spatial planning policies in the broader context of the Netherlands?

It has indeed been used as an instrument of spatial and economic planning. Since the holiday park attracts people and brings work, it can help to spread both tourists and working masses over the country. With the perspective of a densely populated Randstad in the 1960s and big working masses wanting to go on holiday, the government started to accelerate holiday parks and other 'attractions' in faraway areas. This was mainly from a spatial perspective of spreading the population. From the 1980s onwards, the focus shifted more to the holiday park and other tourist attractions as important economic boosters for regions, especially the regions where other industries left, like mining in the south of Limburg.

Today & Tomorrow

With the density of holiday parks in the Netherlands on the rise, you talk about the implications this phenomenon has on the landscape, the risk of becoming cluttered and overgrown. Are there any alternative solutions that could change the pace of this trend or expand the outreach of its benefits? How would focusing on the refurbishment/repurposing of existing parks be a solution?

Definitely; and some regions are working on it. It is the idea of growth and shrinkage: a holiday park can only grow if another park is shrinking. Shrinking can mean having less houses or less land OR even completely going back to nature. This is happening already on a smaller, regional scale, like on a part of the Veluwe. It is even possible to make a sort of national fund, where the benefits of growth in one region can go into a fund that pays for shrinkage/nature elsewhere.

The current pandemic has had a significant impact on the holiday-making landscape, both nationally and internationally. With an increasing number of people choosing the Netherlands or neighbouring countries as a destination, what impact do you think this will have on the holiday-making landscape and future development of the holiday park?

The pandemic has for sure had an effect on domestic tourism. Holiday parks and campsites have had some good seasons. This is of course very positive for them. Some holidaymakers will now finally be able to do investments they'd planned to do earlier. Some of these investments can be positive - renovation of houses or facilities, nature development – but they can have downsides too.

One of the most important downsides is the fact that quite a lot of old campsites are – sometimes with help of big investors – transforming into luxurious sites or even holiday parks. Some guests will not be able to pay for the new sites or houses anymore. Where will they go? Will the most popular holiday areas in the Netherlands become richman's areas, like the inner cities are nowadays? And then there is also the question of 'enough is enough'. Some areas are really cluttered with campsites and holiday parks and are slowly losing their attraction because of this. There is a delicate balance there. Luckily more and more people – policymakers, governors but also holidaymakers – are aware of this.

Already now, we can see some people working less and valuing their free time more, filling it with activities that are meaningful to them.

Finally, is 'going on holiday' something we are told we need, or is it truly part of our DNA? Do you think the current times have taught us that happiness is closer than we thought, perhaps even in our back gardens?

Going on holiday is a cultural construct. As hunters and gatherers we probably have always travelled a bit, but not because we needed a break ;-) The idea of 'going on holiday' and 'taking a break' is rather new, connected to our modern times and its zoning of work and free time, workplace and home. I think it will stay with us a little longer. But of course, when society changes, our holidays will change too. Since the 1960s, people have been dreaming and thinking of a future without work: will we still need a break then? I am not so sure about that. Already now, we can see some people working less and valuing their free time more, filling it with activities that are meaningful to them. So yes, I do think our holiday pattern will change, but I don't think it'll change this quickly.


We’re strong advocates of thoughtful development and thoughtfully-crafted architecture. My wish is for every project to consider nature and the locality. If you would like to discuss a new build, renovation or refurbishment sensitive to its surroundings and your escapism and practical needs, please get in touch.



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