Amsterdam to relocate red light district as part of crackdown on ‘gawping tourists’
Amsterdam’s famed red light district will be closed and moved to an ‘erotic centre’, following an agreement by concillors. The news is the latest in a prolonged war against the supposedly seedier aspects of the Dutch capital. In April 2020, Amsterdam’s council banned red light tours from the medieval district, also called De Wallen, as a countermeasure against overtourism. This January, the city’s mayor, Femke Halsema proposed the banning of tourists from Amsterdam’s cannabis coffee shops, as part of a plan to shrink the local cannabis market and boost transparency. She was joined by the public prosecution and the police in her calls to include the measure as part of a wider move to bring the cannabis trade to a “manageable” level and reduce nuisance and criminality in the city centre. Halsema went on to suggest the shutting down of a significant number of the brothel windows in the narrow alleys around the docks. This week saw these plans approved. The suggestion of a tourist ban in coffee shops is still being debated, with fierce push-back from shop owners, though is likely to go ahead. Lobbyists for the closure of the windows include the CDA and ChristenUnie. The VVD, the party of the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, as well as the Labour party and the Greens have also now come on board with the idea. Many proponents of the move see it as part of a transformation of the city while tourists are away, with the goal to encourage a different kind of visitor, one who is more focused on the city’s culture and wider attractions. “This is about a reset of Amsterdam as a visitor city,” said Dennis Boutkan, of the Dutch Labour party. “Tourists are welcome to enjoy the beauty and freedom of the city, but not at any cost.” Amsterdam was visited by 19 million people in 2018; dwarfing the city’s population of 850,000. Further recent counters to these unsustainable numbers include a raise on the tourist tax on rooms and more restrictions on renting out Airbnbs. New tourist-centric shops have also been prevented from opening. Halsema, however, cited her belief that women working in the area had become a tourist attraction, as her reason for the proposal. “Gawping tourists” objectifying or even abusing the workers was a key concern, as was combating the “rise in human trafficking by providing a safe environment in which sex workers can run their businesses”. The sex workers themselves may not see things that way. When the idea was first proposed, a lobby group known as Red Light United said that 90 per cent (of 170) female sex workers surveyed wanted to continue working in their current location. “Relocating those workplaces is not an option because then the customers will not know where to find the sex workers,” activist and sex worker Foxxy told the Het Parool newspaper at the time. As for what tourists think? Reactions aren’t positive, on the whole. “I’ve been to the galleries and the museums and on canal tours and so on. But I wouldn’t keep going back if there wasn’t something that didn’t make it more lively,” commented Jamie Lafferty, a frequent visitor to the city. “Otherwise it’s a mass tourism city like Rome or Edinburgh and so fundamentally a little bit boring. So much of Amsterdam is designed not to change; without the interesting drugs then it’s just another well-preserved European city.” “They’ll lose out on all the coffee shop fans and readers of High Times. I have Californian friends who holiday there yearly just for the coffee shops,” said another. “This makes little difference to my motivations to visit personally,” added another social media user, “as neither of those things are for me, but it is a little sad as it does feel like Amsterdam would be losing some of its uniqueness in doing so.” Add your voice to the conversation. Would you be more or less likely to visit a newly transformed Amsterdam?