Tourism in Zeeland
It was back in 1834 that Domburg, as a primeur in Zeeland, was endowed with a bathing establishment, a French invention. The first bathhouse was built in 1837, on the site of today’s Badpaviljoen. By 1839, the word ‘toerist' had popped up in Dutch. Fast forward to Cadzand, 1866. Their first bathhouse opened for business in a hotel-café-restaurant, atop of a dune. A sector is emerging. In 1892, the ‘Vereniging tot Bevordering van het Vreemdelingenverkeer op Walcheren’ was founded – the tourist office. Its first guide, in the same year: ‘Gids door Walcheren’.
By the end of the 19th century, tourism in Zeeland had started to emerge. First on the coast, between Vlissingen and Domburg. The early adopters were the well-heeled. Vlissingen was becoming a favourite with day trippers. In 1886 the Grand Hôtel des Bains opened its doors on the Boulevard Evertsen, enabling people to stay for longer. In 1924, the name changed to Grand Hotel Britannia, and then to ‘Brit’ in the vernacular.
After the turn of the century, Renesse welcomed its first tourists. Among them, notables such as Albert Plesman, the first CEO of KLM, an airline, and Anton Pieck, an artist of fairy tales. In 1911, a tourist promotion association, the Vereeniging Renesse Vooruit, was founded. It was time to upgrade the infrastructure. The steam tram from Zijpe to Brouwershaven was extended to Burgh in 1915, much enhancing access to Renesse. The early Twenties saw the first campsite, Bona-Fide, on Aan de Hoogezoom. There too the first summerhouses rose from the ground.
Infrastructure was also improving on Walcheren. Domburg got its first steam tram in 1906. Come 1910, it was a blooming beach resort, with guests flocking from all over Europe. Many well-to-do guests came, devoutly, to consult the renowned Doctor J.G. Mezger. The aristocratic, the regal. Moneyed nobility, Grand Princes of Russia, German princesses. They came to take the therapeutic waters. Bathing in the sea was the new health fad. Next came the artists, of the likes of Mondriaan and Jan Toorop. They spent their summers living and painting in Domburg, attracted by Zeeland’s unique light. The nearby village of Zoutelande caught the mood, introducing cane beach chairs, wooden changing huts and beach tents. Bathing fashion was slower to open up. Ladies wore long dresses and hats and sheltered under parasols, being transported in a bathing machine, descending several steps into the sea.
With the arrival of the first bathing tourists, came the advent of room letting. Even house letting. Residents moved out for the duration, sometimes to their outhouse.
The 20s and 30s saw a rising demand for guest house accommodation. More than a few farmers savvily converted their larger farmhouses to welcome the new guests. They came from Belgium and England, but above all from the Netherlands – the 30s saw the domestic market surge. Camping spiralled upwards too. The coast of Zeeland was attractive to several demographics. Before the Second World War it had recreation areas, and Domburg and the western cape of Schouwen-Duiveland were much in vogue. German tourists started to discover the Zeeland coast in the 1950s.
Mass tourism took off in the 60s and 70s. People had more money, more leisure time and better transport. Farmers became recreational entrepreneurs. Today, most people in Nieuwvliet, for example, make a living from tourism. Sixty years ago, it was from agriculture.
When the new Grevelingendam and Zeeland bridge improved the province’s accessibility, tourism got another boost . Especially in the water. Under the Delta Act, most estuaries were closed off, and the Veerse Meer and Grevelingen became hotspots for water sport.
Better access has been a stimulus to tourism on Noord-Beveland too, thanks to the Veerse Dam, Zandkreekdam, Zeelandbrug and the flood barrier. Where once it was cut off, the area is now the centre of Zeeland.