Before coronavirus, there was a crisis over mass tourism in Amsterdam, its residents feeling alienated by the hoardes of rowdy visitors, rubbish-strewn plazas and parks, noise and public disorder in the historical city center.
As a result of the pandemic, the beautiful, 500-year-old Dutch city went from an average of approximately 55,000 visitors a day to almost zero.
Now that as most of the rest of Europe, the Netherlands reopens from months of restrictions, many in Amsterdam want to make sure that the city says “good riddance to mass tourism” and reverts to the numbers of visitors as they were around 2014, before the situation spun out of control from low-fare flights, Airbnb and budget tours.
Coffee Shops, Red-Light District
“The scantily-clad sex workers in brothel windows in small alleys like Stoofsteeg in the red-light district were gone, as were the hordes of tourists who come there to gawk at them; coffee shops on historic plazas like Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein didn’t get the visitors who descend upon the city by the thousands for the cannabis they sell,” reports Bloomberg.
This is not the first time in recent years that Amsterdam has tried to control the numbers and quality of its visitors and develop sustainable tourism that creates sustained employment while minimizing the damage caused by the industry.
Nevertheless, as The Guardian explains, “most hotel groups, tour operators and national tourism authorities – whatever their stated commitment to sustainable tourism – had continue to prioritize the economies of scale that inevitably lead to more tourists paying less money and heaping more pressure on those same assets.”
The 2020 forecast for international travel generally — prior to the pandemic — was an increase between 3% and 4%.
More Taxes For Tourists
Although since last year Amsterdam has one of the highest tourist taxes in Europe at €3 per person per night — added to the tax of 7% of the price of a room and Airbnb increasing its rates by 10% per night while cruise passengers were charged €8 per person — the over-tourism had not weakened the numbers in any radical way.
With just 870,000 residents, Amsterdam attracts more than 19 million overnight visitors a year, according to official statistics. But some consider that number to be shy of reality due to the fact that private holiday rentals are not always officially registered.
A post-pandemic petition that seeks to limit the number of visitors, ban establishment of new hotels and impose an increase in tourist taxes has gathered the 27,000 signatures required to trigger a city council referendum on the issue of the future of tourism in the Dutch capital.
The main goal of the citizens’ demand is to force measures that effectively will limit the number of visitors to 12 million overnight per year, considered “the manageable levels of 2014.”
“This is a huge noose for all entrepreneurs who focus on tourists. But it also offers a welcome break to all residents who felt increasingly alienated from their city,” the petition claims.
What the proposal wants is to change the focus of any new measures from treating the city merely as a place for tourists to one where the residents are central, so that “tourists are not visiting an amusement park but a lively city with a diverse neighborhood economy.”
Given that those 19 million annual visitors mean revenues of more than $6.8 billion, the city will need to strike a better balance between visitors and locals.
Among the proposed changes, the motion calling for the return of Amsterdam to its residents includes:
- The establishment of “cannabis passes,” which already exist in other parts of the country. The city’s mayor had already announced her intention to cut down the number of coffeeshops selling marijuana and a “clean up” of the red light district.
- Banning of foreign visitors from buying drugs, which is also a measure already in practice in some of the country’s southern provinces.
- A total or partial ban on holiday rentals and of extensions in current hotels.
- A new increase of the tourist tax and reassessing it every six months.
- The creation of a new “councillor for tourism and quality of life” office dedicated to maintaining the cap on overnight visitors and proposing measures to improve conditions for residents.
- Using extra proceeds from the tax to counteract tourism problems and improve the quality of life for locals.
According to The Telegraph, “a survey by Amsterdam’s research, information and statistics office, shows that some 42% of British visitors said they would return to Amsterdam less often if they were not allowed to buy cannabis there.”
Tired Of Being Permissive
In a recent letter to the city council, Femke Halsema, the first female mayor in the city’s history, suggested not only the cleaning of the city’s red light district but moving it entirely out of the city’s center, buying property and limiting permits to ensure that the old city is not just dotted with shops for tourists selling souvenirs, cannabis and junk food, but attracts companies where residents work, grocery stores and outlets catering to them and housing where they can live again.
For the city’s residents — renowned for the permissive attitude that led them to put up with the million of tourists visiting their city to smoke weed in the coffeeshops and ogle the legal prostitutes in the windows of the red light district — enough had become too much.
The coronavirus epidemic that has forced the emptying of the city offers an opportunity to impose the long-desired controls.
In an article entitled Call To End Mass Tourism, the Dutch Review wrote: “The residents of Amsterdam are tired of tourists. They are taking the coronavirus as an opportunity to call for reform of mass tourism in the city.”
It adds that while the decline in visitors due to the pandemic has widespread economic consequences for local businesses, nevertheless residents are enjoying the break.
“Destructive though it is, the virus has offered us the opportunity to imagine a different world – one in which we start decarbonizing, and staying local,” The Guardian notes. “The absence of tourism has forced us to consider ways in which the industry can diversify, indigenize and reduce its dependency on the all-singing, all-dancing carbon disaster that is global aviation.”