domingo, 15 de janeiro de 2017
Amsterdam attempts to stem its tourist flood and regain its soul
Amsterdam attempts to stem its tourist flood and regain its soul
Millions flock to the Dutch city every year, and residents say it is becoming unrecognisable.
By MARIANNE SLEGERS 1/15/17, 7:15 AM CET
AMSTERDAM — The biggest city in the Netherlands is drowning. An influx of tourists and new city dwellers have brought more noise, brawls and overcrowding to the city and created a crisis at city hall.
Determined to save their historic city from destruction by the hordes, local politicians have put a stop to new hotels in most parts of the city and recently limited the number of days people can rent out their homes on Airbnb.
Amsterdam’s marketing bureau, which promotes the city, has had its budget cut by more than 20 percent from €4.6 million last year to €3.8 million this year. Concerned politicians are also trying to curb street music and ban so-called “beer bikes” — vehicles on wheels that can seat about 17 drinkers.
Amsterdam, a city of almost 850,000 inhabitants, had 17 million visitors in 2016, up from 12 million five years earlier. If the upward trend continues, the number of visitors could hit 30 million by 2025.
With a population growth of 10,000 people every year, Amsterdammers are feeling the squeeze.
“We are at risk of becoming the Venice of the north if we don’t act now” — Tiers Bakker
“We are at risk of becoming the Venice of the north if we don’t act now,” said Tiers Bakker, a city council member for the Socialist Party, referring to the Italian city where many locals have been driven out of the historic center because of tourism and eye-watering real estate prices.
Other European cities are having similar problems. In Barcelona, the mayor declared war on tourism, launching an assault on short-term rental services such as Airbnb and slowing down the issuance of licenses for new hotels.
Noise and brawls
In Amsterdam, officials’ concerns go beyond overcrowding and affordable housing to include litter, noise and drug dealing and they intend to deploy 140 extra law enforcement officers in the city center. People living near the central train station, the famous red light district of De Wallen and the party area Leidseplein have filed more complaints about noise, brawls and general nuisances from the influx of people.
Mariana Oliveira, who works in a clothing shop in Haarlemmerstraat, a tourist area near the Central Station, says the city’s popularity comes at a cost for the city’s inhabitants. “The residents of Amsterdam are being driven out because of the rental prices caused by the abuse of Airbnb, illegal renting, hotels and luxury apartments. It’s not like I am against democratizing of travel,” she said. “But tourism in Amsterdam should definitely be more spread out over the city.”
“If there were fewer tourists, maybe more residents would be buying from us instead,” said Margriet Metz, who works in a tobacco shop at the Damrak, one of Amsterdam’s busiest streets. “It is really getting out of hand. I often don’t recognize my own city anymore.”
The mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, emphasized the urgency of the situation in a speech in late October. Though tourism has contributed to the city coffers and helped it through an economic crisis, he said, there is a limit to the city’s hospitality. “There are 300 million people from China and India getting ready to travel the world,” he said. “We are in a hurry to do something.”
Van der Laan wants to learn from other cities in Europe and hopes to work with Paris, Lisbon, Barcelona, Vienna, Madrid and Reykjavik to regulate mass tourism. During a tourism summit in Barcelona in November, they agreed to share information on individual negotiations with Airbnb and to ask the EU for help in retrieving personal information about landlords who are operating illegally on Airbnb or other rental sites.
Too little, too late
Amsterdam is to organize another international tourism summit in the spring and more concrete proposals on the cooperation between these European capitals are expected in the course of this year.
But that’s not enough for the opposition.
The city’s governing political coalition “is acting rather late, and real structural, fundamental measures have not been taken yet,” said Jorrit Nuijens from the Green Left, which is part of the opposition.
The city’s three governing parties, an ideologically mixed coalition of two liberal parties and one socialist party, have only recently tried to align their views on the issue.
For the liberal D66, the biggest political delegation in the Amsterdam city council, a busy city center is a good thing since it creates a flourishing economy and more jobs. But the mayor’s rhetoric and changing public opinion has made D66 acknowledge that measures to reduce the negative impact of tourism are needed even if the party cautions that the city needs to stay open for business.
“‘You can’t go as far as shutting down the whole city,” said Jan Paternotte, a member of the D66 party. “I sometimes get the impression that the Greens would like to do that, even though they never make clear how.”
Their liberal coalition partner the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, doesn’t favor too much regulation or interference, either. “We need to act against the excessive growth of hotels, for instance, but my liberal heart does hurt a little by putting in place restrictions,” said Marja Ruigrok, a city council member for the party.
In addition to a recent agreement with Airbnb to restrict the length of time that people can rent out their homes to 60 days, city officials also want to cut back on opening hours and reduce the number of shops that cater explicitly to tourists, such as those selling cheese, Nutella and waffles. Another plan is to prevent tour buses having access to the city center and move the cruise ship terminal to another part of town.
Despite differences in ideology with their liberal coalition partners, Bakker’s socialists seem content with the measures that are being taken. “Drastic measures are now being carried out. We are very happy with the revolutionary hotel stop as of 2017. But the neo-liberal policy of stimulating more tourism has been going on for a very long time. I don’t know if we can ever repair the damage that has been done,” said Bakker.
The Labor Party, or PvdA, the biggest opposition party in the city council, thinks that the city needs to ease the flow of tourists to the city center. But in the previous coalition in the city council, they promoted tourism and pushed investments into promotions of the city as a tourist destination – something the socialists are keen to point out. “Even the mayor was flying everywhere to promote the city as a tourist destination,” said Bakker.
But the PvdA points out that was at a time when the city needed more visitors. “It’s unfair though to put the blame on us,” said Marjolein Moorman, a city council member for the PvdA. “This policy was created during the economic crisis, a period when hotels were empty and the city’s economy needed to be developed. Even the [socialists] was supporting this policy back then.”
Moorman, indeed, lobs the criticism right back at those who are now in power. “The current coalition is reacting way too slow … to the problems,” she said. “The measures are just a drop in the ocean. They need to make real choices and be courageous.”
The only ones who aren’t complaining are the tourists themselves. “If I were a resident, I might not enjoy the busy streets that much,” said Kyriaki Zouli who was visiting from Greece. “But as a tourist, I don’t mind.”