Amsterdam: Anticipating the Future

Looking to solve the problems of mass tourism

Amsterdam is facing an ever growing number of international visits a year. Anticipating the Future looks into the effects tourists have on the small capital, and asks the question: how do we maintain the right balance between livability and visitor experience?

With a population of 800,000 and an ever increasing stream of tourists which already accounts for 5 million international visits per year, Amsterdam is looking for solutions to the well-known problems of mass-tourism. Other cities like Venice, Barcelona and Paris are familiar with the constant stream of tourists and the consequences this mass-movement brings along, however clear solutions are no where to be found. Amsterdam: Anticipating the Future is a publication by Stephan Hodes that looks into the issue of mass tourism and its effect on our capital, and proposes that Amsterdam can fulfill a pioneer function when it comes to answering the questions of tourist management. The publication sets out to find the right balance between residents and tourists.

Its paradoxical, but uncontrolled mass tourism ends up destroying the very things that made a city attractive in the first place: the unique atmosphere of the local culture. Mass tourism can kill a city (the Guardian)

In recent years the constant stream of visitors to Amsterdam has led to a growing anti-tourist sentiment heard in the street and published in popular media. The inner city feels crowded, traffic streams are in contestation with one another over space, and some areas seem to cater more and more to tourists’ needs. Even the director of the Rijksmuseum spoke out and stated that Amsterdam is becoming dirty and full because of tourists.

Line for the Anne Frank House © Col

On a more theoretical level it can be said that Amsterdam is facing the consequences of Disneyfication and hotelization. First, Amsterdam is seems to become more of an attraction than a place for living functions, a shift that is characterized by the large amount of tours, attractions and transport options like beer-bikes. Secondly, Amsterdam has a large number of hotel rooms per inhabitant (26,700), a number that is said to increase with 12% this year, also overshadowing living functions in the inner city. Fact remains that the constant flow of visitors is one of the few economic factors that seems to be unaffected by the economic crisis. Their numbers are a sustainable source of income, and the large amount of restaurants, bars and shops that Amsterdam has to offer, could literally never exist if they had to be filled with residents alone.

Amsterdam thus needs to search for the right balance between livability and the experience of visitors. A search that the publication doesn’t give a clear cut answers for. However, it presents a good combination of hard facts, and opinions of a diverse range of experts. The publication touches upon often heard solutions like the dispersion of tourists over time and space, and the possibilities of apps for tourist management. More surprisingly options like the reintegration of the car in busy streets, and having tourists visit attractions along Dutch highways on large bustours, are also discussed.

Or stop city marketing? © Mo

Still it is questionable whether those sollutions, that are mostly based on trying to get tourists away from certain spots in town, have a sustainable effect on the tourist sentiment present in the city. Personally I was most struck by solutions that tried to encourage a better understanding between tourist and local by encouraging interaction and understanding. How about introducing a booklet that explains Dutch biking culture, or the Istanbuls example of the Volunteer Tourism Ambassador Project, where young volunteers with blue t-shirts printed with ‘Ask me’ helped tourists that wandered around lost.

Still, the publication concludes that most people visiting Amsterdam are here to see the cultural heritage that is the inner city. A solution has to focus on strategy and policy that will ensure a good visitor experience, while remaining a liveable city for its citizens. It remains an incredibly complex issue that is presented in a detailed and diverse manner:

Get your hands on the publication here, (€14,50) : in Dutch & certain sections in English


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