Impact story

Social media helps to map tourist flows in overrun cities

Tourism has always been considered a profitable activity. However, over-tourism can cause problems, such as traffic jams on narrow roads. In addition, the needs of, local property tenants may not be met due to the demand for holiday property rentals, and tourists may not be able to visit and view landmarks because of the crowds. Therefore, innovative solutions need to be developed to deal with and manage these tourist flows.


The Dutch capital of Amsterdam is well known for its World Heritage-listed canals, narrow streets and web of alleys in its red-light district. Amsterdam has a growing problem with its tourism. Too many people visit the same sights and take the same route to these sights. Overnight stays in hotels rose from just over eight million in 2006 to 14 million in 2016. The number of people visiting the Anne Frank House has set records seven years in a row, to nearly 1.3 million in 2017. Every weekend the City is overrun by foreigners in strip joints and bars where marijuana is permitted. Amsterdam has to make adjustments in managing tourism in an attempt to keep the City attractive to visitors and residents alike.


Photos on Flickr show exactly how tourists move around a city. Between 2005 and 2014, three million photos of the Netherlands were uploaded onto Flickr, of which approximately half a million were snaps of Amsterdam. Smart clustering algorithms were used to find patterns in the mass of photos. Of course, there are the usual sights, with the Dam as the most photographed subject, but the massive letters of Iamsterdam in front of the Rijksmuseum are also popular. More computing wizardry has revealed the routes that the tourists took. There are many places in which few or no tourists visit.

Wageningen University & Research carried out these activities in cooperation with AMS Institute.

Photos leave trail of crumbs in the city

Impact and future perspective

Amsterdam already had data on museum visits and visitors to the Central Station. However, this data added information on public spaces, such as squares and picturesque alleys. Based upon this information the City has got a good impression on what routes are most popular, and maybe overcrowded, and what places that are less visited. Promotional material and promotional activities can be used to encourage a better spread. 

Image: Sander van der Drift
Image: Sander van der Drift