This is a response to Mohamad Alhaj’s article The dilemma of different interests between loud and silent voices in Amsterdam.
As director of LAgroup, an Amsterdam based consultancy firm in the field of the arts, leisure and tourism, and as founder of Amsterdam in Progress, a think tank that addresses possible solutions for overtourism and disbalance in Amsterdam, I have been intensively involved in the discussion around tourism and overtourism in Amsterdam.
Mohammad Alhaj writes ‘The study revealed that residents of the privileged (social) houses in the RLD are the loud voice against tourism. They are disappointed and annoyed by tourism, because that they cannot benefit from it.’ The argument for or against (over)tourism is hereby reduced to an economic argument, to those who economically benefit and those who do not. Though this is undeniably a factor, my research has indicated that social arguments also play an important role in people’s attitudes towards (over)tourism. The livability and lovability of a neighbourhood are influenced by noise, rubbish on the streets, drunk and disorderly behaviour and other forms of nuisance and annoyance, often caused by overcrowding. In addition other relevant factors are social cohesion in a neighbourhood and involvement with the neighbourhood, factors that are negatively affected when the tipping point is reached and tourists determine the image on the streets and the residents become ‘extras’ in their own film. Also monoculture in the type of shops and facilities in an area, geared primarily towards tourists and not towards the needs of the residents, can influence how the residents view tourism and its effects on a neighbourhood.
Mohammad Alhaj also writes, ‘The research revealed that the complainers have the power to influence tourism. It is this minority that wants the municipality to limit the number of tourists in Amsterdam, through stopping tourism in the city centre, while the silent majority wants to see more tourists visiting their city all year around.’ While I underwrite his conclusion that ‘the complainers’ are the most vociferous, I have not in fact observed that they have in fact managed to influence the tourism strategy in the city. And as to the silent majority, in my opinion this group can be divided into two subgroups: those who have consciously decided to remain silent and those who are silent because they do not have a particular opinion on the subject. The first group are those who benefit economically from tourism such as hoteliers, restaurant and shop owners, museums, tourist attractions, airlines, cruise companies, those who rent out their homes via Airbnb and those who work in the tourism related industries. The tourist industry and those involved with tourism are the silent party in this discussion between the city government and the residents of the city because they benefit directly from the continual growth of tourism. The second subgroup can again be divided into two groups: those who believe more is better and those who have no opinion on the subject, often those who live in neighbourhoods that are rarely visited by tourists, where tourism is not an issue.
The subject of overtourism is extremely complicated. The solutions are partly dependent on the answers to the questions ‘Who owns the city?’ and ‘What kind of city do we want to live and work in?’ As both the tourist industry and the residents of Amsterdam are fragmented and because massive changes – demographically, technologically and economically – have resulted in overtourism, massive measures need to be taken to solve the problem, a problem that grows significantly every year. An inclusive policy approach will in my opinion not lead to an effective solution.