Confusion reigns as Amsterdam goes to war on Airbnb for the soul of the city

WWith a population of just over 870,000, Amsterdam is still a minnow among international capitals, but some 20 million tourists flock its streets each year. As a longtime Amsterdamer, I regret the loss of the original, rough village atmosphere that drew me here almost 30 years ago.

The problem, many Amsterdamers say, is private vacation rental, and the enemy platforms that facilitate it, like Airbnb. A constant turnover of temporary residents impoverishes the quality of life, and the fortunes of renting short-term apartments keep the housing stock away from the local population.

The irritation and insecurity that comes with your next door neighbors looking different every day is felt by cities in similar situations, like Barcelona and Paris, but what sets Amsterdam apart is its small scale. Here the problem is intensified, limited by narrow streets and a network of canals. Many of these charming gabled houses have narrow ladder-like staircases and small apartments put together like parts of a Rubik’s Cube. Not great when there’s a bachelorette party above you, another next to you, and a couple hitting the streets every night – Amsterdam’s reputation as a party city makes it worse.

The main charm of Amsterdam’s intimate size is its sense of neighborhood, and that’s what really feels threatened. In my own neighborhood (a stone’s throw from the canal belt) I still have a local baker, a wine merchant, a pastry shop, a butcher, a cheese factory and a fishmonger: a private property, less than ten minutes on foot. My doctor makes house calls on his bike. Friends closer to the center are increasingly seeing these amenities disappear under a wave of fast food outlets, cafes and shops selling mediocre and expensive waffles and cheese as rents rise and residents of the city rise. long-standing, which support local businesses, decline.

The neighborhood’s sense of identity gives way to a feeling that the locals are fleeting and that Airbnb and its ilk are to blame. In addition to changing the mood and profile of Amsterdam’s neighborhoods, private vacation rentals pose a problem for city authorities that, as these rentals are not always officially registered, they are not properly reflected in “vacation rentals”. ‘one night’: the workforce (based mainly on hoteliers) on which town planners base their strategies to cope with the tourist impact. Another problem is the difficulty of regulating or limiting the number of tourists, as the authorities in Amsterdam have tried to do by banning the construction of new hotels.

A battle between Amsterdam and Airbnb is raging on several fronts, and it’s unclear who wins. Amsterdam has decided that the houses can only be rented for 30 days a year, but it is difficult to verify this without the cooperation of Airbnb. At the end of last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that Airbnb was an information service, not a rental or vacation agency. This means that Airbnb does not have to cooperate and that the city must aim to apply the 30-day rule to the donors themselves. Amsterdamers who do not rent property complain that the European Court favors the interests of multinationals over local residents. While Airbnb has been collecting tourist tax for Amsterdam properties since 2015, the numbers also depend on what data it is willing to share with the city.

In a separate move, MPs from the Dutch Lower House united across parties to call on Secretary of State for Infrastructure Stientje van Veldhoven to toughen up her bill requiring vacation owners to register by forcing platforms like Airbnb to publish registration numbers for each property (which means addresses can be traced and rules enforced). This is currently not the case. To complicate matters, the State Council (the government’s main advisory body) has since said that all residents who rent homes need a permit. (The current 30-day, license-free ruling was an exemption from the national housing law.) For some, that means an effective restriction on Airbnb, as the city would be able to ban rentals in busy areas of the city ; others interpret the statement differently and the situation is currently confused.

What is clear is that the battle is not over and that many neighborhoods remain in flux. Yet like so many Amsterdamers who lament Airbnb’s impact at home, my attitude falters when booking a vacation abroad. Perhaps this is where the real problem lies.

Are you using Airbnb? Do you think this is a force for good, or does it spoil European cities? How should Amsterdam and other popular destinations deal with overtourism? Please leave your comments below.


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