Amsterdam is currently dealing with ‘overtourism’, with visitor numbers that are leading to nuisance in the city. Although discussion is regularly raised about measures to reduce visitor numbers, expectations are that urban tourism will continue to result in large numbers of tourists and considerable consequences for Amsterdam residents. How do we deal with this? Can the drawbacks and benefits be fairly distributed? It’s time for a new vision on urban tourism. Inholland University of Applied Sciences, Toeristisch Ondernemers Platform (TOP) Amsterdam-Noord (North Amsterdam Tourist Entrepreneurs Platform) and Pakhuis de Zwijger all feel that it’s time to work towards tourism in Amsterdam which is more inclusive and sustainable.Together they organised the Fair Tourism Urban Conference during the WeMakeThe.City festival in Amsterdam.

 

During the afternoon of Tuesday 18 June, the Fair Tourism Urban Conference brought together sustainable and co-creative innovations related to tourism and urban development. People from cities across Europe came together in Pakhuis de Zwijger, where moderator Michiel Hulshof’s first questions immediately elicited widespread response from an informed audience.

 

With an international perspective as point of departure, during the afternoon, tourism in Amsterdam today and in the immediate future was evaluated, with a special focus on the northern borough, Amsterdam-Noord. Amsterdam-Noord is a city district that is quickly becoming a mainstay on tourist maps, yet one where decisions can still be made that will shape the way the drawbacks and benefits of tourism are distributed. Addressing this requires the participation of all of the Amsterdam stakeholders. How can everyone join in and draw up an agenda for a more sustainable type of tourism?

 

Digital nomadism

The first keynote speaker was Claudio Milano, a researcher and lecturer at the Ostelea School of Tourism & Hospitality in Barcelona, who sees boundaries dissolving between tourists and the local population: digital nomadism is on the rise, with new, temporary inhabitants peopling cities and countries.

 

Charles Landry, a writer and international consultant on the future of cities, also spoke of a nomadic world, with increasing numbers of people travelling around: businesspeople, refugees, students, tourists… Space, place and time are all changing. For instance, there are more and more public spaces that have multiple functions, ones that could be all sorts of places, just based on their appearance. As an example he described a bank in Berlin that resembles a meditation centre. These days, we spend more time in our virtual world than in the physical one as well.

 

New paradigm

Milano begins his keynote address with the following question: ‘How much tourism is too much tourism?’ He then goes on to describe various aspects of the overtourism issue: real estate, travel industry trends such as cruises and event touristification, gentrification, public space, waste and sustainability, purchasing power, and the way the media deals with overtourism.

 

Milano depicts various solutions for overtourism which he puts under the heading ‘from user to consumer’. The entry gates to Venice illustrates this. He summarises a number of management measures, referring to these as the 5Ds: deseasonalisation, decentralisation, diversification, deluxe tourism and decongestion. He then goes on to advocate a following step: a new paradigm that goes beyond management measures. Elements of the new paradigm are a more inclusive model instead of exclusionary tourism, storytelling instead of marketing, the acknowledgement of the diversity in tourist flows.

Meaningful encounters

Landry does not look at the problem of overtourism in particular, but takes a broader perspective: ‘How can you create meaningful encounters and relations in a transforming world? What do you take and what do you have to give?’ Cities that are currently viewed as less attractive by today’s ambitious nomads can bring upon change in this matter themselves. ‘Find your niches!’ This will create a wider distribution of travellers and inhabitants.

 

Political issue

Both Milano and Landry emphasise that dealing with visitor flows is a political issue. In his call for a new paradigm, Milano emphasises that a political approach is required that goes beyond management measures such as distribution and enticement. Landry also sees an important role for politicians and new (and open) democratic processes: ‘Politics lag behind the changes occurring in the world,’ says Landry.

 

The keynote addresses were followed by contributions by Fairbnb and www.untouristguide.com, two initiatives that show that you can deal differently with visitor flows: Fairbnb’s Sito Veracruz tells how their platform has the profits from overnight stays benefit the community where the flat or room being rented out is located. Untourist Guide’s Sabine Linze calls for interaction with tourists which is based on pleasure and becoming acquainted. She looks at the contribution that visitors can make, such as helping fish plastic from canals.

 

Ewout Versloot from Rotterdam & Partners shared his experiences with Rotterdam’s new tourism policy, which mainly focuses on the city’s needs and how tourists can contribute to this. This has led to special projects being designed.

 

A place for makers

Everyone head for Amsterdam-Noord! TOP Amsterdam-Noord’s Eva de Klerk explains: ‘We are a place for makers, where many initiatives are born in the community. When such ideas come to fruition and are implemented, they draw various subcultures.’ She is also on the lookout for new government policy on tourism, although only if it has been designed in collaboration with the community: ‘We are currently looking forward to meeting with the municipality, entrepreneurs and other parties to shape policy together.’

 

TOP has requested Inholland tourism students to draw up a profile of travellers visiting Amsterdam-Noord. Student Coen van der Meer says that their research revealed that tourists are poorly informed about Amsterdam-Noord. They basically just come to visit the IAMSTERDAM letter sculpture, the A’DAM Toren and Eye, the film museum. Otherwise, they have little idea of what else there is to see and do. The students recommend that TOP create another hotspot in addition to Eye, perhaps featuring a large playground, a fountain or an arts centre.

 

IJamaze

Another group of students have developed ‘IJamaze’, a platform where tourists and the local residents can participate in activities together. ‘This way tourists will get to see an authentic part of Amsterdam-Noord while giving the local population ownership of the activity,’ according to student Kathleen Umbdenstock.

 

Drafting a new agenda

The conference ended with a panel discussion on the future of tourism in Amsterdam. Will we simply be imposing restrictions on tourism in certain city districts? Or will an attempt be made to actually get neighbourhood residents more involved in local activities? A’DAM Toren’s Sander Groet is not in favour of forbidding more hotels from opening in Amsterdam-Noord, yet residents belonging to Landelijk Noord are indeed worried about increasing numbers of tourists. How can we work together to ensure that all goes well? So what would be a good location for a new hotel in future? On the Buikslotermeerplein, perhaps? Or do we feel that there are already enough hotels? This has led to Inholland and TOP’s ongoing  investigation of how a new vision for tourism in Amsterdam-Noord can be developed, together with all of the parties involved.

Eva de Klerk proposes a vision for tourism in Amsterdam-North bases on the key values of the district

Fair Tourism, We Make The City, Pakhuis de Zwijger, Inholland, 18 juni 2019

Inholland student Coen van der Meer talks about his research

Fair Tourism, We Make The City, Pakhuis de Zwijger, Inholland, 18 juni 2019

Key note speaker Charles Landry on creative cities

Fair Tourism, We Make The City, Pakhuis de Zwijger, Inholland, 18 juni 2019

Key note speaker Claudio Milano on a new paradigm for urban tourism

Fair Tourism, We Make The City, Pakhuis de Zwijger, Inholland, 18 juni 2019

Panal discussion with Sander Groet (A'dam Toren), Eva de Klerk (TOP) and Peter van Lonkhuysen (Centrale dorpenraad)

Fair Tourism, We Make The City, Pakhuis de Zwijger, Inholland, 18 juni 2019

Photo credits: Anke Leunissen