Chorus of voices speak out against Amsterdam's plan to reduce city center tourism
The political leadership in Amsterdam proposed a series of measures over the past six months to curb the negative effects of tourism in the old city center. These measures include a ban on smoking cannabis in the Red Light District, using curtains to cover up the brothel windows, a crackdown on bachelor parties and pub crawls, restrictions on the number of canal cruises, and earlier closing times for bars, cafes, and restaurants in the city center. In parallel, city officials will launch a "stay away" campaign aimed at discouraging tourists planning to go on a “holiday from their morals.” The municipality's governing coalition, including the mayor and aldermen, also agreed to plans to construct an erotic center with room for 100 sex workers either in Amsterdam Noord or Zuid, which would likely lead to the closure of dozens of windows in the Red Light District.
These measures are meant to improve the quality of life for residents. “It’s not just about nuisances caused by tourism. It’s about the city’s image. I believe this sends a clear message,” explained Alderman Sofyan Mbarki in Het Parool.
But what message has this plan conveyed to residents, entrepreneurs in the city and abroad, and tourists? The proposals have ignited a heated discussion over the past few weeks in Amsterdam, and not everyone is on board with these measures. Residents, coffeeshop owners, business owners, and sex workers have voiced skepticism about this plan. Some locals have argued that these actions do not address the fundamental issue of the crowds, as they do not actually prevent people from visiting Amsterdam in the first place. Owners of cannabis businesses have also spoken out, stating that targeting cannabis consumption is misguided, as tourists smoking cannabis are not the root cause of disturbances. “A happy smoker is not a troublemaker,” emphasized Joachim Helms of the Association of Cannabis Retailers in an interview with AT5.
Matt Mavir, managing director of Last Night of Freedom, a British company that arranges bachelor parties in Amsterdam, is not thrilled about these measures either. He told NL Times that tourists have become a convenient scapegoat for local politicians. "Stags and hens are an easy target to blame the city’s problems on.” According to him, the media and local politicians have a simplistic and stereotypical image of tourists, and might not have the desired effect. "We see nothing in the proposals that would scare groups away from visiting Amsterdam. There’s more to the city than sex and drugs.” He argued that only a small number of tourists corresponds to this image and is responsible for the nuisances in the city center. Therefore, these measures would actually come at the expense of locals and tourists “because of the actions of a few.”
A common argument against these measures is that tourism generates a significant amount of money for the local economy and that getting rid of these types of tourists would be counterproductive. “We estimate that each group is worth around 6,000 euros to Amsterdam’s economy”, said Mavir. His company brings over 100 groups every year to Amsterdam. While he understands local residents’ concerns, he pointed out that tourism can also enhance the lives of locals because it creates jobs, supports development, and props up businesses. “It’s about striking a balance, it isn’t black and white.”
Sex workers also spoke out against these measures, in particular, the possible closure of brothel windows. “A number of stories that are spread from the municipality and in the media are simply not correct. Sex workers are happy with their workplaces in the Red Light District”, said Lucy, a sex worker, during a gathering to discuss the city’s plan for an erotic center.
Iris de Munnik, from the Prostitution Information Center (PIC), suggested that relocating window workers may also lead to them losing many local residents as their clients. She pointed out that the Red Light District attracts a diverse crowd, claiming half of the visitors are tourists and the other half locals. “Local customers tend to blend into the crowd and the anonymity. With an erotic center, I wonder if it will be possible to keep these customers”, she told AT5.
Accordion to Mavir, these different proposals illustrate a new urban trend, which is to only attract so-called quality tourism while discrediting another type of tourism. He warned, "While attracting what some people see as a higher class of tourist has some advantages, officials need to be careful this doesn’t make Amsterdam boring and snobbish.” His fear is that these measures might lead to gentrification, and change the face of the city.
“Amsterdam faces becoming a sanitized version of what makes the city great – the color and characters and the fun could be washed away to appease a vocal minority.”