Tuesday 22 May 2018

Crowded Amsterdam announces new plans to deter budget travellers

Overtourism in Europe

Crowds throng the Red light district (Wallen) in Amsterdam. Photo: Deposit
Crowds throng the Red light district (Wallen) in Amsterdam. Photo: Deposit
Crowds walking in the Leidsestraat, one of the main shopping streets in Amsterdam. Photo: Deposit

Gavin Haines

Authorities in Amsterdam are considering radical new measures to limit the number of tourists visiting the city.

The plan?

To deter budget travellers, but keep wealthy ones.

There is certainly a pressing need to do something. Like other cities in Europe, Amsterdam has been inundated with tourists in recent years; the city of 800,000 residents welcomed an estimated 12 million visitors in 2016, which locals claim is “Disneyfying” the Dutch capital.

“We have to find a way of making the city liveable for our citizens,” says Udo Kock, its deputy mayor for finance. “But there is not one golden bullet.”

The authorities have already introduced measures to tackle runaway tourism, such as curbing Airbnb’s activities, banning new hotels from the city centre and introducing a tax on overnight stays, currently set at five per cent of the room rate.

Crowds walking in the Leidsestraat, one of the main shopping streets in Amsterdam. Photo: Deposit
Crowds walking in the Leidsestraat, one of the main shopping streets in Amsterdam. Photo: Deposit

However, Kock claims more needs to be done and has announced plans for a new tourist tax that will “adjust the composition” of visitors.

In other words: deter budget travellers.

The proposed levy, which is just an idea at the moment and won’t be discussed until next spring, would see a flat fee, of say €5 or €10, added to the cost of every overnight stay.

The fee would be in addition to the current tourist tax of five per cent (which will rise to six per cent in the city centre next year).

Kock admits the levy would disproportionately affect budget travellers; well-heeled guests, he reasons, are unlikely to quibble about parting with an extra €5 when they have already splashed out hundreds on a room.

“In future you will have a little less budget accommodation in Amsterdam and a little more of the upper segment,” he predicted.


So is Amsterdam, a city famed for its openness, now becoming hostile to budget travellers?

Kock claims not.

“They are more than welcome,” he said. Just not as welcome, it seems, as high-rolling holidaymakers, who “spend more money, create more jobs and are ultimately more valuable to the city”. 

“They go out for breakfast, out for lunch, out for dinner,” he said. “Maybe they will go to the theatre, see an opera.”

Critics claim the proposals are “short-sighted” and could prove ineffective.

“Much of Amsterdam's vibrancy and famed openness comes from youth travellers, many of whom tend to favour budget hotels,” said Frank Uffen, partnerships director at The Student Hotel group, which has two properties in Amsterdam.

“The very things that make Amsterdam so unique and such a great place to visit… are endangered by this kind of restrictive thinking. Some of the best young talent in Europe now lives and works in Amsterdam and the likelihood is, the first time they visited, they were a ‘budget traveller’.”

Others are slightly more supportive of the proposals.

“The general trend of penalising budget travellers is understandable because this group cause the most nuisance,” said Elard Tissot van Patot, founder of Amsterdam Red Light District Tours.

“But this won’t fix the problem.”

Uffen claims it is inevitable that more people will visit Amsterdam in the future and implored the authorities to look at other ways of managing growth, such as making the outskirts more attractive.

“Surely the better solution is to offer more diversity, more reasons to visit, and to work with the people and businesses of Amsterdam to grow our tourism business rather than restrict it to an outdated idea of the ‘model visitor’,” he said.

The authorities are taking very small steps to make the outskirts more desireable: while the overnight tourist tax will increase to six per cent in the city centre from January 1, 2018, it will come down to four per cent outside the canal belt.

New cruise tax for Amsterdam

It’s not just budget travellers who find themselves caught in the crosshairs of the Amsterdam authorities: cruise passengers are also going to have to dig a little deeper if they want to visit the Dutch capital.

“We are broadening the base of the tourist tax to include those who visit on cruise ships,” Kock said, claiming the measure would bring in an additional €2 million in tax revenue.

The tax will be applicable to cruise passengers docking in the city overnight from 2019.


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