This is a response to Mohamad Alhaj’s article: The dilemma of different interests between loud and silent voices in Amsterdam.
The case study on overtourism in the city of Amsterdam demonstrates an underlying issue that needs to be addressed in tourism policy and stakeholder governance: whose ‘overtourism’ is it, and are measures taken by the city planners (for example, the removal of the IAmsterdam sign on the museum square) a reflection of inclusive policies? (NL Times, 2018).
In order to tackle this governance question, this researcher embraced an ‘embedded action research approach’. He, as an important first step, decided to temporarily reside in the outskirts of Amsterdam and interacted with its residents (West, North, BIjlmer/South East) before arriving in the city centre Red Light District (RLD).
He was, as a result of this approach, able to understand the variety of positions of the diverse residents’ groups, including owners of small local enterprises, a variety of migrant communities and members of youth networks. Many of them considered tourism ‘an opportunity’ and were wondering why the city would not develop tourism in their area. There was no overtourism in their area, so they see missed opportunities.
This called for further questioning. Who, in this case, is actually complaining about tourism in the city of Amsterdam, about what, what privileges do they have to protect and what is the mechanism of exclusion here? Being politically connected, having social housing benefits, speaking the local language, having access to policy makers and having enough time to lobby for change, are apparently mechanisms of exclusion. This study revealed that a relatively small group steers the discussion and residents from the outskirts of the city are not included or represented.
This research is a strong critique of the general assumption in tourism studies that the residents of a city, in this case Amsterdam, are in some sort of agreement about the (negative) impact of tourism. The study demonstrates the difficulty of inclusive policy making and calls for a broader vision of (social) impact measurement: for example, by including a larger variety of qualitative research techniques to represent the resident networks that are not able to share their voices for reasons of language, low network access, location, economic aspiration and focus. Also, stakeholders cannot be simply categorized without first giving them names and faces, rather than considering them the homogeneous ‘the rest’.
Policy makers and city planners can benefit from alternative approaches to identify how the residents can take part in the complex discussions on overtourism, quality of life and the future of a city. With the tremendous growth of tourism worldwide, this research taps into a destination governance domain that can, and should be, further explored.