Miguel Ángel Lorente

 

It may sound strange, but after living for already a few months in the Dutch capital, whenever I went abroad for holiday, I felt that I cannot wait to come back to Amsterdam. Why? How much fun I had abroad is of little importance, when considering the feeling of safety and clarity with which my new city provides me. Cities such as Paris are of big hype, right? However, while being there, I still got my mother saying: “I am so glad you did not proceed and do your studies here, Amsterdam is golden.”. The truth is, I consider the it a wonderland for living due to the fact that it is so incredibly well organised – its constant ranking in top 10 cities which deliver their inhabitants a high standard of living being a proof.

Unfortunately, there are moments when I find myself thinking about Amsterdam differently. And this happens when I am in the city center and making my way to work on time becomes a real quest, given that all areas are overcrowded with tourists. As a bit of a paradox, I work in the hospitality industry. Whenever I lend company bikes to tourists, I am only thinking about how many locals they are going to annoy, because visitors are clearly not accustomed to the biking traffic rules in Amsterdam. 

The Dutch capital, which evolved from a small fishing village to the main trading hub in the 16th and 17th centuries, currently faces a 5% annual increase in sightseers of its eye-popping attractions. Great marketing campaigns went hand in hand with other brave investments of EUR 12 billion in the effort of attaining this escalation in popularity. But perhaps the initially expected success of these actions has been underestimated. Opposition Labour councillors in Amsterdam now urge council marketing officials to stop selling the capital as a great amusement park and start developing plans to ensure that tourism will not disrupt any other businesses. Currently, Amsterdam welcomes around 17 million sightseers every year and seems to be threatened by a tide of tourists amounting to 23 million by 2025. Local Labour leader, Marioleijn Moorman, believes that ‘Tourism can end up eating away at the city’s unique character, which is what makes it a draw to locals and tourists.’. She also states that “Amsterdam has a historic downtown where lanes are narrow. If tourist buses, beer bike, bike-taxi, etc. circulate, space is becoming too small and causes aggressiveness.”. Thus, the unique Dutch “gezelligheid” is actually an element soon to disappear given these concerns – because of the tourist overflow and because of the soon-agitated 830 000 inhabitants.

“It’s Tuesday and it’s raining. There shouldn’t be so many people here,” contended a 25-year-old Brazilian visitor while sheltering under the arches of the world-famous Rijksmuseum. He was left a bit surprised and annoyed by the fact that he had to opt for visiting some less-appealing attractions. Biggest interest points, such as the Anne Frank House, are constantly facing a queue that takes several hours to make. Therefore, it can be concluded that not only locals, but also tourists themselves, suffer from the issue. But there is one thing that cannot suffer… and that is obviously the economy.

Nationwide economic benefits

In the report from 2014, the World Travel and Tourism council ranked the Netherlands on the 27th place in the world for the GDP percentage contribution of tourism (5.6% of GDP, EUR 36.5 bn). Out of this total contribution, direct one amounted for only EUR 12.5 bn (1.9% of total GDP) in 2014, and was expected to rise by 2.7% from 2015 till 2025. The contribution brought to employment, including jobs that are indirectly supported by the industry, was represented by a percentage of 9.8% of total employment – yielding around 709 000 jobs. This was believed to be rising by less than 1%, up to almost 70 000 more jobs in the next ten years. The current environment of this sector seems to have also stimulated an investment of EUR 3.5 bn (2.9% of total) and forecasts show that figures tend to increase to EUR 5.3 bn (3.5% of total) by 2025.

The economic impact of the persecuted market

In the first place, what is believed to have made Amsterdam famous since the ‘70s is, of course, its relaxed approach to Drug Policy. The city is now a hub of Cannabis culture, bringing millions of visitors to flock here for the green stuff. Sources estimate a total gross annual revenue that exceeds EUR 1.6 bn from this industry. Out of this, around EUR 400 millions are redirected in tax revenues to the Dutch government. Although trends depict an easily sustainable economic strategy given current drug policies, efforts are now being made for capping the amount of these businesses. Rumors say that a relatively high number of coffee-shops that were located on Warmoesstraat have been closed and that owners have made big riots about it.

Locals believe that marketing officials are actually trying to make Amsterdam escape from this sex and drugs halo that has been making it shine for more than a decade – which, in fact, might be true. The city has much more to offer, but youngsters and (allow me to call them) “old stoners” are definitely not interested in the museums or astonishing views, but in this great freedom of sin that the city seems to expose.

Solutions?

The municipality is definitely happy with making cutoffs in the marketing budget, having mayor Eberhard van der Laan affirming that “We must not do anything to attract people here” – he has told the newspaper Het Parool. Decongesting the downtown is seemed as an emergency by him and, therefore, he demanded good operating conditions to parks, plains and channels in order to ameliorate the flood of 2 000 events that are held each year in the city. The aedile appealed directly to tourists to make them look for accommodation in other major Dutch cities (such as Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht), which are easily reachable by train from Amsterdam. Other solutions involve the ban of large tour busses to the centre, better supervision of private apartments that allow vacationers through websites such as Airbnb, reducing the legal number of subletting days from 60 to 30 and putting a cap on museum lines. Future promotion should aggressively encourage tourists to travel outside the city to spots such as Zandvoort, Zaanse Schans windmills and Keukenhof tulip fields. “You can have a look at the canals, but also have a look at other neighborhoods to the north or the south or upcoming east for example,” said Machteld Ligtvoet, spokesperson for Amsterdam’s city marketing team. But the great challenge that will remain lies in Amsterdam’s position that facilitates an easy reach of many European countries and in the large number of budget airlines, which it currently serves.

In the end, we are often going abroad and joining the category previously mentioned. But we complain about tourists just as we whine about traffic – we are part of it but it is painful to admit it.