Amsterdam, Airbnb and the very real problem of overtourism – Skift

Spend some time wandering the streets of Amsterdam and you will quickly understand why there is a tourism problem. Streetcars, bicycles and pedestrians all compete for space in the narrow streets, making it a daunting task for the millions of visitors who come to the city every year.

Amsterdam is endowed with many characteristics that make it very attractive as a destination. It is compact enough to get around on foot and English is widely spoken. Low-cost airlines run hundreds of flights a day to Schipol Airport with tourists drawn to its liberal sex and drug policies as well as its many museums.

In 2015, the city welcomed 17 million visitors, an increase of 15% since 2011 and during the same period the number of visitor days almost doubled to 139 million.

Tourists will keep coming and this is a big problem for Amsterdam.

“I think the city and its people are very actively thinking about the impact of tourism on their city and how they want that impact to manifest,” said Wouter Geerts, senior travel analyst at Euromonitor International. “Banning or limiting tourists is not the way to go. Instead, what is needed is dialogue with all stakeholders to achieve a mutually beneficial solution. This is what Amsterdam is trying to achieve.

Expand the city

Frans van der Avert’s office overlooks the IJ waterway that runs through the city. Throughout the day, the Managing Director of Amsterdam Marketing spends his time looking at Amsterdam Noord, the once-old-fashioned district, which has recently gained popularity with lots of open spaces and an eye-catching new museum.

With the arrival of more tourists, Van der Avert’s job has shifted from marketing the city to managing it, and one of the biggest challenges is getting regular visitors out of the center to places like Amsterdam Noord.

“When you look at foreign visitors, half of them are here for the first time. I don’t bother them with these new quarters because we know they want to see the Van Gogh and the canals and they go to the Anne Frank house, but when you are there for the second or the third or the fourth or the fifth beat, you think ‘Oh.’ He told Skift.

Van der Avert has an interest in getting things done. He is not only responsible for visitors (he doesn’t like the word tourist) but also for locals and businesses.

This gives it a very difficult balance and, as has been the case in other cities in Europe, a backlash from tourism has started to develop.

“It started here three years ago, and it became ‘the’ subject of the city. It is not just our problem. This is a problem that you see happening in small historic towns with a commercial tradition, so no kings, no popes, no big alleys, no big boulevards, but small towns, merchant towns: Barcelona, Prague, Bruges, Dubrovnik, Amsterdam, Venice. People always talk about Venice, but… I still see Venice as… more of a living city, ”he said.

Van der Avert’s profile was upped by a speech he gave earlier this month at the World Tourism Forum in the Swiss city of Lucerne, in which he issued a warning about the problem of overtourism.

“It’s a challenge because we firmly believe that these three target groups – by accident are our target groups, therefore visitors, residents and businesses – they form the DNA of the city. They make the city. They are the soul of the city because you have to have a city where you can work, where you can love, where you can eat, where you can visit, where you go to school. This is why people like to visit a city because it is a bustling city. It is a livable city. We must therefore keep the balance, ”he said.

Van der Avert no longer wants to attract visitors to the city, and that’s mainly because he doesn’t have to. The demographics are going to do that for him anyway. As the middle classes develop in places like China and India, there will be people interested in traveling abroad. There is also the continued success of the low-cost airlines, which makes flights between London and Amsterdam, for example, very, very cheap.

There is another factor that makes cities like Amsterdam so popular with visitors: Airbnb.

Sharing don’t care

The number of people staying in hotels continues to grow steadily and in 2015 the city welcomed 6.8 million customers, an increase of 2% over 2014. Provisional figures for the first nine months of the year last show an even greater growth of 7%.

Traditional hotels are clearly still doing well and on top of that you now have home sharing platforms like Airbnb, which didn’t exist ten years ago and only relatively recently reached a scale enough to challenge. the hospitality industry. What started out as a sociable way to share your home has now grown into a big business.

In Amsterdam, the company has had to overcome a number of regulatory hurdles to satisfy city hall, including collecting taxes and placing a limit on how long hosts can share their homes.

“Airbnb has a very decentralized development; it’s different in every city, ”said Jeroen Oskam, director of the research center at The Hague Hotel School. “What London and Amsterdam have in common is that both are very expensive hotel cities, which means they are expensive Airbnb cities and that means investors who want to open an Airbnb as a commercial business , so to speak, have a very strong incentive to do this.

“In these two cities, it is much more profitable to have an Airbnb, for example, than a savings account, which leads to the commercialization of Airbnb.

While Amsterdam is – like most other European cities – very popular with Airbnb users, there is some disagreement over the overall numbers.

Airbnb estimates the number of nights booked at 770,000 for 2016, while Hotelschool The Hague puts it at 1.1 million.

Oskam said the two sides had similar numbers for 2015, but there were more than 300,000 nights booked separately for the following year.

(For the record, Airbnb disputes Hotelschool The Hague’s 2016 figure, claiming that it is “incorrect and strongly misrepresents our community.”)

“They [Airbnb] have a financial interest in not disclosing the numbers because they pay tourist taxes, ”Oskam said.

In 2014, Amsterdam became the first European city to enter into a partnership with Airbnb. Among other stipulations, the agreement also led the accommodation sharing platform to agree to “collect and pay the tourist tax on behalf of the hosts”.

Another deal struck at the end of last year required Airbnb to limit the length of time that hosts could rent their properties to 60 days per year. Interestingly, the signed document also commits the two parties to “inform each other about their external communications.”

“If you come up with numbers that no one can verify, it doesn’t pay taxes. It’s just donating, ”Oskam said.

Work it

Amsterdam is not a unique case and there have been backlash against tourism in places like Barcelona, ​​where locals feel they are not being listened to.

The problem is now so acute that Van der Avert and his European colleagues have come together to discuss ways to solve it.

“In every city the rules are different, but sometimes the problems are the same,” he said.

Tourism in cities like Amsterdam will only grow and those responsible for its management will find more creative ways to strike a better balance.

Photo credit: The Vondelpark in Amsterdam. The city is trying to cope with an increasing number of visitors. Vondelpark / I Amsterdam

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