Six months of warm Malaysian hospitality in bustling Kuala Lumpur had inspired Annemarie Olde Daalhuis, a Dutch woman, so much that when she returned to her homeland in the Netherlands, she decided to show off her country to the world.
Best six months of my life
“Those were the best six months of my life!” she exclaims via e-mail of her time in Malaysia, where she worked for an Asian travel website between 2010 and 2011.
When she wasn’t not working though, weekends were usually spent exploring the streets of KL and beyond.
“I met many locals and made friends who introduced me to Malay, Chinese and Indian culture and traditions. They dressed me up in baju kurung, invited me to wedding parties and took me ‘balik kampung’ for Chinese New Year,” she says.
“I truly appreciated how welcome they made me feel and decided I wanted to do the same for people coming to my country,” Olde Daalhuis, 38, shares.
Fun facts and beautiful photos
As a hobby, she set up a Facebook page with fun facts and beautiful photos of the Netherlands in 2011. That Facebook page – Heavenly Holland – now has over 45,000 followers.
The encouraging reception prompted Olde Daalhuis to expand the platform to a full website last year. The website boasts tourist information and allows visitors to find deals for flights, hotels and tours in the Netherlands.
With a clean white layout and colourful photos, the website features bite-sized details like when to pick tulips for free in Amsterdam and where to find the oldest existing windmills.
There’s also a cute piece on popular Dutch baby names.
“I always keep my eyes and ears open for interesting information about the Netherlands. I may hear something in the news, see something when gallivanting the Netherlands or pick up a box to start digging for quirky fun facts,” she explains.
Currently, Olde Daalhuis manages the website by herself – from creating content to finding advertisers to analysing statistics.
Olde Daalhuis says the site receives about 6,000 unique visitors per month while the Facebook page reaches around 300,000 people monthly.
If anything, the Enschede native has fulfilled her aim of promoting her country’s tourism scene to the rest of the world.
“One of the largest groups of users are people in English-speaking countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain. Heavenly Holland is also popular in our neighbouring countries Germany and Belgium and with people from Indonesia, Brazil, Italy and Japan, and of course Malaysia,” she offers.
International student community
Closer to home, Olde Daalhuis reaches out to a large pool of international student community at two universities in her hometown.
“I enjoy introducing them to Dutch traditions and habits. I take them to local events, go on bicycle tours and teach them the Dutch language,” she says.
For first-time visitors, Olde Dalhuis recommends that one look beyond the capital city.
“Explore the 12 provinces, the countryside and you’ll see that the Netherlands is as flat as a pancake,” she says, and jokingly adds, “or chapati”.
“The Netherlands is not very large and the public transport systems can take you to pretty much every corner of the country.”
Best time to visit
When it comes to the best times to visit her county, Olde Daalhuis says visitors should come between mid-March and mid-May; that is when Keukenhof is in bloom.
The Keukenhof is one of the world’s largest flower gardens with millions of tulips and other flowers in all colours of the rainbow.
“Another tip for visitors to the Netherlands is to do like the Dutch and ride a bicycle! I promise, you won’t be disappointed,” she offers.
As for those who would like to follow her footsteps and create their own travel websites, Olde Daalhuis says to go for it.
“Share your passion. Be unique and don’t copy other people’s content. Create and write from your own point of view,” she concludes.