In some cities, you need to ask for directions to find trouble. In Amsterdam, you don’t even need to leave the airport. Amsterdam Schipol Airport is a place where it’s all too easy to find travellers already revelling in the debaucherous nature of the buzzing city only miles away, before even crossing a canal bridge. The key attraction: the red light district.
As home to the greatest collection of Van Gogh’s and Dutch masters, as well as legalized cannabis and prostitution, Amsterdam is one part cultural capital and one part insane, wild party town. In an effort to bring a shine back to a part of the city where not much all that much happens while the sun is out, Amsterdam is banning group tours of the Red Light District.
From January 1st, 2020, the city of Amsterdam is officially banning tours of the Red Light District. Other than guided tours, everything else that currently goes on in the Red Light District including: prostitution, legalized cannabis and “soft drugs” for personal use will all remain the same. The one thing you can’t do there: get a guided tour of it all. Sex, (soft) drugs and rock and roll – totally fine.
The controversial ban is aimed at revitalizing the area by reducing overcrowding, while also improving the daily lives of sex workers who cite gawking groups as bad for business and morale. As the tourism booms rolls on, locals have become increasingly fed up with city streets being treated like a film set for the Hangover series.
Will banning guided tours help? Probably not.
The rowdiest travellers were never the ones paying for guided group tours of the Red Light District, were they?
The new measures do nothing to limit individuals or non guided groups from going out on the lash in the world’s most famous district for debauchery, or to offer stricter punishment for those involved in disruptive or disorderly conduct. For anyone looking to go wild in the Red Light District without a tour guide, nothing changes and more people will continue to join.
Amsterdam experienced 19,000,000 foreign travellers in 2018, and with more expected in 2019, one could easily argue that it’s the type of tourists, and the sheer volume which is impacting the famed district, and not the people carrying cameras while taking notes on it.
The question Amsterdam must face is how to balance quality tourism amidst demand. For some cities, any traveller paying the airport departure fee is good enough, while other cities seek to attract travellers who spend money on traditional features, such as hotels, restaurants, shops and the arts.
Amsterdam has established itself as a center of cannabis culture but also of the fine arts, and what remains to be seen is how it remains attractive for all.