Tourists under attack

 Read in Agora 2014 nr 4:


Amsterdam is questioning its success. How regrettable. It’s a troublesome discussion. All the anger of some part of the local population now is focussed on foreigners, of course. Too many tourists, they say, are visiting the inner city. They refer to riots in Barcelona last summer, when tourists misbehaved, they want to curb Airbnb and think their city’s future will be a kind of Venice. Stephen Hodes, an expert in culture and tourism policies, stirs up the masses by forecasting a doubling of tourists visiting the city in the coming ten years. He even launched a special magazine in which all contributors agree, more or less, with his disturbing message. The managing director of the Rijksmuseum, Mr. Pijbes, who lives in Rotterdam and loves to agitate, complains about the dirt in the streets. Amsterdam, he wrote in a national newspaper last summer, is ‘dirty, vile and replete’. Meanwhile his own blockbuster ‘Late Rembrandt’ was criticized because it was too crowded. The Utrecht based planning magazine ‘Agora’ dedicated a special issue to the subject of tourism. Is it makeable, the editors asked themselves? Some facts: in 2001 12,4 million people spent a day or weekend in the inner city of Amsterdam, in 2014  its number was 14,6 million – a growth of 25%.  “In Amsterdam the balance between living, working and recreating seems to be lost.”

Was there any strategy to attract all those tourists? Of course there was not. Tourism is a international bottom-up movement, just like global migration. And yes, if you build or refurbish more than thirty cultural venues in your city at the same time audiences will come. Listing the canal district as a Unesco World Heritage site is also no help. But the ‘I AMsterdam’ citymarketeers love to boast on their performance, so they are under attack now. The same holds for the city’s department of Economic Affairs who launched an ambitious program for building extra hotel rooms in the city. They all wanted to profit, without doing serious planning.  All parties are panicking now. They seem to agree on one thing: we should decentralise tourism, spread it, no matter how. How ingenuous. The whole country envies Amsterdam and wants to profit. To no avail. Mass tourism is a phenomenon that is highly spatially concentrated. You cannot prohibit people to enter the Anne Frank house. Dispersal will always be spontaneous. Which is a blessing. Another hopeful thing: more and more tourists in Amsterdam are renting bikes now. They spread. And Airbnb is a decentralised system of temporary sleeping accommodation. Hope blinks.





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