Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tulips & Bulbs from Keukenhof

Planning For Markets & Development: The Dutch Experience
Published as a supplement in the Business Standard, November 2007

Living below sea-level with an overcast sky that drizzles much of the time, it helps that the Dutch have a dry sense of humor. So they enjoy little inside jokes with their direct language and unaffected style. One such joke is Keukenhof [pronounced ‘Ke(r)-ken-hof’], which means “kitchen yard” in Dutch. Hidden behind this unprepossessing name is a fantastic spectacle of color in something like 80 acres of a beautiful, landscaped garden near the pretty town of Lisse near The Hague. With banks of tulips, daffodils, lilies, and hosts of other flowers set amongst trees and water, Keukenhof hosts thousands of visitors every day from all over the world for two months each spring. The rest of the year the gardens are closed to the public, while the employees hunker down to serious gardening and commerce: bulbs from Keukenhof are exported all over the world, primarily to the USA, Germany, and Japan.

Cottage Kiosk, Keukenhof: Shyam Ponappa 2006

Keukenhof evolved as a collective effort of independent growers from small and large farms in the region who collaborate not only to display their wares, but also to draw in the tourists during the short ‘season’, then market their products worldwide through the year. Seven million bulbs are planted every year, and the flow of the large number of seasonal visitors is organized masterfully, despite 700,000 visitors in two months. At the height of the season, over 50,000 people visit every day. Facilities like widely separated gates and roadways together with good public transport available from Amsterdam and other nearby cities facilitate visits and help in dispersing the crowds.

Keukenhof is a self-contained system with end-to-end processes, starting with the growers’ cooperative, extending to their public facilities for marketing, sales, and tourism. The facilities are supported by accommodation and transport service providers spread around the vicinity. Growers collaborate in planting the bulbs and seeds in the surrounding farms, set up the ‘yard’ for sight-seers and buyers, then work at producing and shipping their products worldwide through the year. These efforts enjoy the support of excellent infrastructure facilities and services built up and maintained over very many years by an enlightened and supportive government.

Crocuses at Keukenhof: Shyam Ponappa 2006

While the Netherlands is a beehive of enterprise and free trade, there is no dearth of governmental resolve and action in the public interest. What is most impressive is how this applies across the board to commercial ventures as well as to convivial living, although some may look askance at the Dutch approach to live-and-let-live. While it is not all necessarily perfect nor unfailingly positive, it is absolutely admirable. At one end of the range are major government investments in infrastructure, such as Schiphol airport, Rotterdam port, and KLM, the international airline in which a controlling interest was sold, reluctantly, to Air France some time ago. Schiphol is built on land reclaimed from low-lying water some 4 metres (15 ft) below sea level (Schip hol = ships hollow or hole), with its state ownership a much-debated but never quite resolved issue. For years, long before it was fashionable to do so, Schiphol featured among the best airports, with highly rated conveniences. This combined with Dutch enterprise in running an airline hub through the city for KLM explains the over 46 million passengers who went through Schiphol in 2006.

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