Stephen and Steve Chicurel-Stein are on a birthday trip to Europe: six nights in Amsterdam, nine in Vienna, with a program packed with ballet, opera, culture, but above all absorbing city life.
For this couple, who stay in a traditional bed and breakfast, together with the owners and their three children, a trip to the Dutch capital is not an opportunity to spend a spectacular weekend. It’s about opening their eyes.
‘Bikes are for people who want to risk their lives!’ jokes Stephen, a licensed real estate agent who lives with her husband in Florida. “I can’t look if I’m cycling, and when I’m here, I want to look at the buildings and the light. It is very clear to me why we have the Dutch masters: that light has not changed.
They may very well be the ideal type of tourist that Amsterdam city leaders think of when they talk about campaigns to ensure that low-rent guests “stay out.” Also, Stephen and Steve stay in very traditional accommodation. It can be rented through platforms like Airbnb, but Maarten Bruinsma and his partner Malo Zacar run an old-fashioned bed and breakfast, where they meet their guests and sometimes even become friends.
The side effect with this tried-and-tested type of tourism (a world away from the hassles Airbnb allows at illegal hotels with absentee owners) is that the experience could be more positive for everyone.
Bruinsma, president of the Amsterdam Gastvrij association for bed and breakfast owners, has added his voice to others in the hotel industry by arguing that responsible hotel companies play a key role in fostering positive tourism. It’s a message he will take to Amsterdam City Hall on Wednesday of this week, asking for leniency over the hefty fines imposed on holiday rental owners who inadvertently broke the rules.
“I remember after high school in 1990 we toured Eastern Europe on Interrail,” recalls Bruinsma, over coffee in her cozy kitchen with her partner and paying guests. “We went through Budapest and there was no structure to accommodate anyone, all these new people who wanted to see these cities. You would come out of the train station to see all these people with a sign that said: room for rent.
‘What if there was no internet and this was basically everything? It probably would have been much better, because we have a lot of hotels, everything has been industrialized. This is what I miss a little: the small scale.’
In his house and bed and breakfast, a BBB, actually, because there are also bicycles, there is no place for difficult guests. Zacar, an interior designer who designed a personal space for visitors, loves to share the excitement of people on vacation discovering a new city.
“I make a big distinction between the people who are here as my guests, who are here on a cultural trip, and a young English man who comes 24 hours a day just to get high,” he says. For me, they shouldn’t come. But here is the reality. We have more of those tourists than lovely people.
Stephen and Steve are clearly among his ‘lovely people’, eating Dutch apple pie and sharing anecdotes of trips to Ireland, New Zealand, Venice, Barcelona, Vienna and Hamburg, as well as their family history as children of German Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, one of whom escaped through Amsterdam.
Piss in the mailbox?
While a hotelier won’t have the same kind of personal relationship with visitors, Conscious Hotels CEO and Founder Marco Lemmers believes that well-run hotels are a key part of attracting friendly guests.
“The whole hotel thing has been framed here as foreign companies coming into the city, stealing the city’s money, and it all goes to a foreign bank account,” he says.
‘But there is so much that hotels do from a cultural point of view, from an inclusion point of view and from an economic point of view. The hotel business is a very open culture, many immigrant workers have their first job there in a new city, if you are a refugee there is a high chance that you will end up working in a restaurant or hotel. Yes, there are some hotels that are closed, disconnected, don’t know their neighbors. That’s not the tourism industry I represent.’
Along with Volkshotel, Lloyd Hotel and Hotel V, he runs a site that points out that hotels that have fire safety, sound insulation, 24-hour reception and anti-vermin policies (of all kinds) are an essential part of a future. Looking for tourism policy.
“I believe in a type of tourism that has good temporary citizens: people, maybe just for a day or a weekend, who are just part of society,” he says. ‘Good temporary citizens don’t pee in the mailbox. We don’t have bachelor parties, we’re not doing them. Together, we should change the profile of Amsterdam.’
Last week, city center boss Sofyan Mbarki announced a set of policy proposals to tackle tourist nuisance, with 18 million overnight visitors expected to stay in Amsterdam this year. The plans, which are expected to unfold over the next few years, include earlier closing times for bars, clubs and window prostitution in the red light district, banning outdoor cannabis smoking in tourist locations and potentially banning pub crawls. organized.
But one element that some experts believe needs to be addressed is Dutch tourists, often day visitors from other cities. A lengthy ABN Amro report by lead author Stef Driessen suggested that raising the tourist tax on overnight stays would have a counterproductive effect: overnight tourists, especially business visitors, are likely to be left out of Amsterdam (and many already They are doing it).
This would mean lost revenue for the city, but it would not address the nuisance caused by some 20 million visitors a day who come to the party and leave litter in their wake. From Driessen’s point of view, banning tourists from coffee shops (enforcing an existing national law) would do more.
“The crush isn’t just for hotel guests and Amsterdammers,” he says. ‘There are technical and legal possibilities for people who come from outside the city to also pay for the maintenance of the canals, to limit the maximum capacity of some areas with turnstiles. Tourists are also willing to pay for a quieter museum visit, if you have responsive websites or apps. In Venice, all this happened too late, and now it’s an open-air museum where there are some people living there.’
Amsterdam right now is at a crossroads: pre-pandemic levels of tourism have returned. Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema calls it ‘Januskop’, after the Roman god of transitions Janus, a two-headed statue. “It’s the two sides of tolerance, the paradox of tolerance,” she says.
‘People come to Amsterdam for tolerance, but a number of people display behavior that we cannot tolerate. If we continue like this, I think that in 10 or 20 years, people will no longer live in the city center of Amsterdam; they will have moved because they can’t afford it, because the environment is too ordinary, because the city has become too dirty, in every way. Too criminal.
Yet at the same time, the city has a €90 million annual hole in its budget from 2026, a hole that tourism tax, parking fees and other revenue from more than 20 million guests could help fill. to fill.
Amsterdam & Partners, the city’s marketing organization, will spearhead a “stay away” campaign in 2023 to encourage upset visitors to do just that, and director Geerte Udo wants guests who come to support cultural venues and facilities. from the city. She calls this a ‘regenerative’ visitor economy, with interactive apps and social media prompts to suggest places off the beaten path.
“We encourage visitors to visit these places that we as locals value,” he explains. ‘For example, using public transport, coming by train if there is a good connection, going to our theaters and museums, visiting the restaurants, bars and shops that locals love and visit. Us [are trying to] seduce people off the beaten path by suggesting offers that fit their needs.’
Back in Bruinsma and Zacar’s kitchen, there is a guest book filled with complementary remarks and, instead of honor, a football marked with a child’s name. He was a guest, they say, he spent a week playing with his son. “The day he left, the little guy said that he should probably give it up,” says Zacar. They gave it to my son.
“I love the feeling that every time you have guests, they are so happy. I’m not on vacation but they are. It’s such a positive environment… happiness all the time.’
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