The Dutch Dolmens – an International Concept?

Foto Davado, D21

Over the coming months four groups of students from the Hanze High School in Groningen will be studying new ways of marketing the Dutch hunebeds to an international audience. The main purpose of the research is to identify how best to make potential visitors from distant lands such as Canada, USA, Japan, Israel, and even other European countries like Italy and Great Britain, aware that Drenthe is home to so many unique prehistoric monuments.

What’s in a name?

The first challenge they will come up against is what to call these megalithic graves. In the Dutch and Afikaans languages they are known as hunebeds, in German as Hünengräber. But those words mean nothing to most visitors from other countries, where these ancient tombs are known by various names – dolmen, passage grave, long or round barrow are all used in England; cromlech in Wales and quoit in Cornwall.

According to Wikipedia “Dolmens are known by a variety of names in other languages, including dolmain in Irish; granja in Portuguese and Spanish; Dolmeni in Bulgarian; dysse in Danish and Norwegian; dös in Swedish; and so on.

When considering international marketing in specific countries, one answer is always to use the local language. Then the problem should not arise. But when producing advertising material with an international appeal – such as on a website – is it possible to decide on one term which will be more or less understood by people in various countries? And if so, would the most suitable term be ‘the Dutch dolmens’?

D15. Photo Hans Meijer

Why do we need this research?

Dutch hunebeds (which, incidentally, foreign visitors often seem to call dolmens) are being increasingly visited by tourists from all over the world. At the largest hunebed, which stands next to the Hunebed Centre in Borger, we regularly see visitors from Canada, Israel, India, the USA, Italy and many other countries. This is a new phenomenon. Until the last few years we saw Germans and Flemish people but very few other nationalities. What does this tell us? It is really too early to draw definite conclusions but we can consider a few possible contributing factors.

More than ever, the Netherlands has become a popular tourist destination. That has happened partly because of the overall increase in the number of world travellers, there is an inexhaustible amount of information available via the internet, and it is now much easier to book airline tickets and hotels online. Most people go to places which are already well-known, concentrating greater numbers of tourists in a small number of places. In the Netherlands, that means Amsterdam and its immediate surroundings. Drenthe and the hunebeds are not such a well-known attraction, but times are changing.

It may be that before long we will see more people visiting the hunebeds because Amsterdam and the Randstad just cannot take any more tourists and will introduce a deliberate policy of diverting people elsewhere?  One way of doing this is by making Amsterdam appear larger than it really is.  So, for example, the Muiderslot (25 km away) is now known as ‘Amsterdam Castle’; the seaside at Zandvoort (30 km) has become ‘Amsterdam Beach’; and the large area of lakes in the far distant province of Friesland is now marketed as the ‘Amsterdam Lake District’. A few years ago, the Dutch comedian Arjen Lubach took this idea even further in his weekly TV satire programme by calling the hunebeds the ‘Amsterdam Stones’. It was intended as a joke but he was making a serious point – could this really happen? Would we become a sort of entrance hall or lobby for Amsterdam? And would this result in more and more foreign visitors coming to see the hunebeds?

Other reasons for the increase in visitors could be that information about the hunebeds on the internet has spread to a new audience who were previously unaware of them; or that foreign visitors are already coming to Drenthe in greater numbers and staying in tourist accommodation where local information is available to them.

Whatever the reasons, we are certainly seeing an increase in the number of foreign tourists. Are we ready to deal with it? We have to ensure that staff become multilingual, that the retail sector offers a range of suitable products, that appropriate activities are available and that all information is offered in several different languages. Perhaps we should be looking at how places like Enkhuizen, Volendam, Kinderdijk and similar attractions in the west of the country have adapted themselves to deal with foreign tourists.

Here at the Hunebed Centre we are seriously considering how we should position ourselves internationally. Up until now we have been a typical Drenthe phenomenon, primarily targeting Dutch tourists on holiday in Drenthe. This must and will change. One idea is that we should perhaps split ourselves into two parts: as a typically Drenthe phenomenon for the Dutch visitor; and, for foreign tourists, as a typically Dutch destination such as the Neeltje Jans theme park in Zeeland, the Keukenhof gardens and other similar attractions.

The key questions

These are just some of the issues which the students from the Hanze High School will be studying during their research project. To return to the first part of this article, the main purpose of the research is to design an international media message which will attract potential foreign visitors from all over the world to come and see Drenthe and its hunebeds.

And the first challenge is to find the most appropriate word or term to describe the hunebeds to an international audience. Is ‘dolmen’ the most suitable word? Would it be understood by most people in most countries? In which case, should we perhaps consider rebranding our hunebeds for foreign visitors as ‘The Dutch Dolmens’?

What do you think? We would welcome your opinion. Please send us your ideas or comments via e-mail or social media.

Text                 Harrie Wolters

Translation     Alun Harvey


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