Amsterdam urges tourists to play nice
Hard-partying visitors are testing the famous Dutch tolerance in the city, says Renate van der Zee
Els Iping caught a group of male tourists ripping out the shrub in front of her house in the centre of Amsterdam one day last month. They were wearing pink dresses and were very drunk. “These kind of things happen all the time,” she says. “It’s worse when they throw up in your plant boxes, because you can’t rinse it away – you have to scoop it out.”
Over the past 10 years, Iping, 64, has seen her neighbourhood change as the result of an unparalleled growth in the number of visitors. “Every day throngs of tourists pass by my window. The weekend now starts on Thursday afternoon; the screaming and shouting of tourists boozing it up is deafening. And the rubbish they leave behind!”
As she speaks, as though on cue, a group of 30 tourists gathers in front of her window to listen to the lengthy spiel of a tour guide. “The atmosphere in the neighbourhood is very different now. Shops for local people have been replaced by shops that cater to tourists. Even the tourists have started to complain – because all they see is other tourists.” Amsterdam is not the only European city where locals suffer from growing rowing numbers of visitors. This summer, residents of Venice and Barcelona held protests at the effects cts of mass tourism.
Amsterdam has as introduced meassures to tackle the he problem, including g a crackdown on Airbnb nb rentals that do not ot stick to the letting ng rules, a moratorium m on new hotels, increasing the tax on tourist rooms and banning more shops targeting tourists in the historic centre. This week it banned bierfiets or “beer-bikes” – part vehicle, part bar.
To a certain extent, the problem is of the city’s own making. During the global financial crisis of 2008, Amsterdam decided to invest in tourism. “We saw it as our lifebuoy,” says Sebastiaan Meijer, who speaks for the council on economic affairs. “For years we have actively stimulated property developers to build hotels in the city, and our marketing organisation travelled the world promoting Amsterdam as a tourist destination.” It worked – perhaps too well. In a decade, the number of hotel guests increased by 61%. The total number of visitors leapt from 11 million in 2005 to almost 18 million in 2016.
That’s a lot for a city of 850,000 with a historic 17th-century centre. Many streets are too narrow to allow large crowds to pass. The growth is expected to continue to 23 million visitors in 2030, according to Meijer. “We now realise we need to get a grip on this,” he says. “Amsterdam wants to be a hospitable city, but mass tourism has too many drawbacks.”
Iping considers that an understatement. “I am glad they realise something needs to be done but they are a little late. There is not a sound vision for the city’s future. The measures they are taking now are mainly in reaction to residents’ complaints.”
Walking through the crowded streets of her neighbourhood, she points out all the tourist shops that had once catered cate to locals. “The chem chemist, the fishmonger, th the hairdresser and t the shoe shop have all disappeared, replaced by shops selling ice cream, souvenirs and cannabis,” she says.
“What used to be o our local cheese shop is n now called the Cheese E Experience. The assist tants speak English and only sell one type of pre-packaged cheese. No sane Amsterdammer would buy a piece of cheese there.”
Growing tourism has effectively changed neighbourhoods, says Iping, with most landlords opting to rent to tourism service providers. “It’s difficult for GPs and physiotherapists to find practice space; as a result, facilities for local people are disappearing,” she says. “But compared with other people I still call myself lucky. At least I know my neighbours.” One of her friends lives on a street where virtually all the apartments are rented to tourists.
It has had an impact on social coherence, she says. Residents tend to take care of their neighbourhoods, “whereas tourists are mainly interested in having a good time”. Bert Nap, 59, a teacher and writer, says “many tourists indulge in wild partying. They do things here they wouldn’t
‘It’s worst when they throw up in your plant boxes. You can’t rinse it away – you have to scoop it out’
dream of doing at home.” He adds that tourism in the city used to be seasonal: “You had busy times, but there were quiet times too. Nowadays it’s always crowded. I have nothing against guided tours through my neighbourhood. But it’s a different thing when 40 people block the entrance to your house while listening to a guide who’s giving a loud, 20-minute performance that looks more like a stand-up comedy act than a guided tour.
“For me a line was crossed when a Venetian gondola appeared in the canals. That’s when we realised the tourist industry was taking over.”
Meijer says the council is trying to change the behaviour of tourists. “For a long time our marketing was aimed at making people come to Amsterdam. Now we are want to spread a new message: ‘Come to Amsterdam, but please behave’.”
Two tales of one city … Amsterdam’s buzzing nightlife and, below, the more traditional image as depicted on fridge magnets