By Olga Ellinghaus
Published Sat Feb 13 2021
It all started in 2019, when the infamous ‘I amsterdam' landmark was taken down from the Rijksmuseum’s front door on Museumplein. Appearing in Noord, later in Oost, and currently visible at the Sloterpark in West, the city of Amsterdam tried shifting tourists’ attention away from the city center to other, less popular areas of the city. A clear attack on overtourism was launched.
Now, by limiting the purchase of marijuana to Dutch residents and, most recently, by announcing plans to re-locate the city’s Red-Light District, the city has declared war. For the affected business owners and employees – out of question – this will have remarkable financial consequences. And the message regarding which type of tourists the city is trying to get rid off is loud and clear. By cracking down on Airbnb, drug- and sex-tourism, the rich and wealthy will be left to enjoy the more expensive side of tourism, staying at one of the city’s boutiques or luxury hotels.
In 2018, approximately 19 million tourists visited Amsterdam. This may not be a lot compared to cities like Paris (40 million visitors) or London (37 million visitors) but here, visitors are mostly confined to Amsterdam’s merely 8km2 large city center. Of which 1.73 km2 are occupied by water. Depending on who you ask, the official population of Amsterdam is somewhere between 820.000-1 million inhabitants. Pre-Covid19, the relatively small city welcomed an average of 55.000 visitors every single day of the year. Had they not been accompanied by local complaints and increasing uneasiness among Amsterdamers, these numbers would not have to mean anything. But in recent years, tourists peeing in canals, throwing up in residents’ flower pots, starting brawls, or simply causing nuisance, have become a daily reality for many. Following the first lockdown and a break from tourism, in early 2020, citizens started an initiative signed by 30.871 inhabitants to reduce tourism and focus on making the city more accommodating again for its residents, “who have felt increasingly alienated from their inner city.”
The response, a report called Redesigning the Visitor Economy was published on the official Iamsterdam website and provides more insights into the current developments: “We do not want to go back to the situation before the coronavirus crisis, in which the quality of life of residents in parts of the city was under threat. Instead, we want to return to a healthy visitor economy that enriches the city and its residents as soon as possible,” states Geerte Udo the Director of amsterdam&partners in its introduction. Among other things, the report lists points of recommendation that include making the city centre liveable, managing the night, and redesigning public spaces.
But there is more to the objective of reducing tourism in Amsterdam than simply trying to keep the drunk and stoned away from disturbing residents and crowding the narrow cobblestone alleys. According to investigations by De Groene Amsterdammer, the city’s tourism sector is not able to cover all the public costs, generating an economic deficit of 13 million Euros per year. Moreover, on an already scarce housing market, many landlords have shifted from offering long-term rental contracts for citizens to the more lucrative business of renting out their apartments for tourists on platforms such as Airbnb. Property values were already skyrocketing in the city center, but the 19.619 listings on Airbnb are contributing factors to gentrification and housing shortage.
What the right solution for reducing Amsterdam’s problematic overtourism may be, remains an open question. I am neither an urban planner, nor a specialist of tourism, so I do not feel I am in any appropriate position to make suggestions here. However, completely shutting down the drug tourism and relocating the Red-Light District, a historical landmark, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Certain is, the city should focus on residents’ needs more than on touristic demands. Measures to bring under control the disproportionate touristic flows into the Dutch capital need to be taken to counter the predictions of over 23 million tourists per year by 2025.