Amsterdam says ‘stay at home’ to revelers and cannabis smokers in tourism overhaul
By Karolin Schaps
AMSTERDAM – Artist and tour guide Louke Spigt manages to make ends meet by offering tours to some of the millions of foreign visitors who flock to the Dutch capital Amsterdam every year in search of culture, cannabis and excitement.
But even she has doubts about their return after the Dutch government began lifting most lockdown restrictions in April, once again opening the door to mass tourism in one of the most visited cities in the world.
“The problems are the out of control groups of British drinkers, the budget tourists who throw all their trash on the streets,” said Spigt, 53, blue-haired. “We want other (types) of tourists.”
As Amsterdam emerges from heavy pandemic restrictions, it faces a balancing act – how to revive the tourism trade that underpins nearly a tenth of the city’s economy while ensuring that it does. does not dominate at the expense of residents.
To do this, the city is urgently seeking to shed its “anything goes” image – based on its tolerance to cannabis and sex work in the famous red light district – and to focus on welcoming visitors who prefer to indulge in its cultural and historical offerings. .
“Amsterdam is in a lucky position where it could really use the pandemic to try new things,” said Ko Koens, professor of new city tourism at Inholland University of Applied Sciences.
Unlike other vacation spots, the city has a wide range of industries, which means it can afford to curb damaging tourism, he said.
“Now is the time to experiment,” Koens added.
Amsterdam hotel plunged 68% amid the global pandemic last year, according to city data.
Dutch bank ABN Amro expects visitor numbers to remain relatively low this year, with revenue loss of around 8 billion euros ($ 9.5 billion) for the city and its businesses.
About 11% of Amsterdam’s workforce is employed in the tourism sector, and many are eager to be able to return to work after 15 months of repeated shutdowns.
“It’s great. Finally, after a long time, I’m back on the water. It’s my passion,” said luxury skipper Joost Barendsen.
Others living in the city center of Amsterdam are less happy.
Marlies Weyergang, 61, said she feared rowdy tourists would return to the picturesque central Nieuwmarkt district, which is home to a growing number of vacation rentals.
“We have seen so many Airbnbs appear in our area. As residents, they are not giving us any benefit,” Weyergang said.
Amsterdam hosted around 20 million foreign visitors in 2019 and its center typically welcomes five tourists for every permanent resident, according to government statistics.
Residents argue that the city is a victim of its own success, with visitors bringing trash and noise as well as skyrocketing rents due to the boom in vacation rentals that have cost many locals dearly.
In June, Amsterdam City Hall launched a € 100,000 advertising campaign focused on food, museums and nature to attract culture-conscious tourists rather than those coming for drunken stag parties or bachelor parties. drug-fueled adventures.
“If tourists just want to smoke weed, drink too much alcohol and visit the Red Light District, stay home,” Amsterdam Deputy Mayor Victor Everhardt told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via email.
“We haven’t been able to steal good ideas from other cities – they are now looking at us on how we treat tourism.”
Even before the pandemic, authorities had made efforts to tackle antisocial behavior by visitors and to make the city more livable for permanent residents.
In recent years, the municipality has banned new hotels and souvenir shops, and banned vacation rentals in some areas.
Amsterdam’s left-wing mayor Femke Halsema has also made proposals to ban tourists from buying weed and to move the red light district from the city center to a new “erotic center” on the outskirts.
The changes drew criticism from some quarters, such as sex workers at Red Light United, who warned that the plans would make them “less visible” and therefore more vulnerable to human trafficking.
Some also wonder if efforts to dispel rowdy behavior are achievable.
“Drunk tourists will always be there. They were already there in the 17th century when sailors got drunk in the same bars. It’s part of Amsterdam society,” said Berber Hidma, a 34-year-old tour guide.
But the plans were generally well received by residents.
“Tourists shouldn’t think that just because you can smoke a joint here, you can do whatever you want,” said Willem Bosse, 55, a computer consultant who said his house in downtown Amsterdam is within two minutes of 10 cafes – most of them selling cannabis – but no butcher or bakery.
“As residents, we always have to adapt to accommodate tourists. There has to be a better balance,” he said.
Businesses are also taking steps to encourage more positive tourism.
For the past two years, the walking tour company Tours That Matter has offered visitors to explore Amsterdam through themes such as colonization, gentrification or sustainability.
It also takes tourists to sites outside of the city center, for example in the Bijlmer district, one of the poorest and most diverse neighborhoods in Amsterdam.
“We (…) are focusing on the positive impact to make sure the locals want to have the tourists,” said co-founder Anouschka Trauschke.
“We train locals, like artists or former homeless people – some of whom have no other job – to become tour guides and share their stories.”
Zoku, an Amsterdam-based company offering hybrid homes, offices and hotels, designed their rental lofts to allow tourists and residents to mingle in common spaces.
Locals and visitors regularly share dinners organized on long wooden tables in his restaurant.
Zoku has expanded to Copenhagen and Vienna, two cities also grappling with the challenge of welcoming tourists without hurting residents.
“If you want people to behave like guests, you also have to treat them like guests and not like merchandise,” said Koens, professor of tourism.
“We should be looking a lot more at the societal value that tourism can bring than the economic benefits – this is the change we need to make.”