RESPONSE TO RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT FROM AMSTERDAM CITY COUNCIL
Wednesday, March 27th 2019
SANDEMANs NEW Europe has written to the Amsterdam City Council (the Gemeente) demanding that they repeal the discriminatory intention to ban free tours.
In recent years, the issue of overcrowding in the Amsterdam city centre and Red Light District has widely been reported to have been caused by tour groups. However, Amsterdam council members have mentioned on several occasions to representatives of tour companies and tourism boards that they are aware the main issue lies not with groups, but with bodies, organisations and individuals who are transient and therefore difficult to regulate.
Moreover, the council has confirmed that groups only represent around 10% of people in the Red Light District.
SANDEMANs NEW Europe, a Dutch-registered company employing local residents, enjoys a 5-star customer service rating and has long seen its role in helping to alleviate the issue of overcrowding in the Red Light District, moving visitors through quickly, and communicating behavioural guidelines for visitors towards residents, business owners and sex workers in the area. Indeed, the main purpose of the Red Light District Tour is to inform guests about the history and background of this important area and to communicate the need to respect sex workers.
To abandon the incredible and positive influence that a responsible local tour guide can have on visitors to the city and their behavior is perplexing.
SANDEMANs NEW Europe has, to its own financial detriment, voluntarily cut group sizes, and guides working within the SANDEMANs brand have created a strict code of conduct to minimise the negative impacts of tourism on local residents.
SANDEMANs NEW Europe has been committed to addressing overcrowding in the city of Amsterdam, and over the past few years has called for, prompted and led discussions with the wider traveler community. The company has been frustrated to be continuously publicly painted to be the cause of these problems, while being told privately that council members do not believe tour groups are the issue.
The new proposed plans, including to ban free tours in Amsterdam, and all tours in the Red Light District do not suggest a reduction in the total number of people visiting these areas. SANDEMANs NEW Europe’s concern is that an increase in visitors to these overcrowded areas without organised tours to educate, guide and enforce appropriate behaviour will have the exact opposite of the desired intended effect.
While the new restrictions are said to support sex workers, this claim that has already been refuted by a spokesperson for PROUD, the interest group working for sex workers in the Netherlands. This spokesperson is also a board member for the Prostitution Information Centre, and states that the nuisance tourists do not take guided tours, and that she believes the issue will get worse without tour guides to supervise visitors and explain the rules.
SANDEMANs NEW Europe’s initial legal review suggests that these new proposals violate both Dutch constitutional law as well as European law. It would not be the first time that the Gemeente has attempted to establish a license system which is unlawful due to not satisfying the criteria of non-discrimination, necessity and proportionality. In 2017, canal boat companies successfully challenged a new, restrictive license system that the Gemeente had introduced in 2013. The plans of the Gemeente were ultimately overturned at national level, at considerable expense to the taxpayer.
At this time, SANDEMANs NEW Europe asks the Gemeente to produce a firm justification for these latest proposals, that stands up to the strongest legal and public scrutiny, and to maintain an open and constructive dialogue with the Amsterdam tourism community. It is all the more disappointing that this recent communication directly opposes the council’s assurance to make decisions with residents and businesses together.
SANDEMANs NEW Europe maintains that responsible and sustainable organised tours are part of the solution to overcrowding in Amsterdam, not part of the problem, and asks any companies or individuals who consider themselves to be damaged by these proposed plans to join in defending the integrity and promise of Amsterdam as one of the most liberal and welcoming cities in Europe.
– ends –
For further information and interview requests please contact:
STATEMENT FROM EUROPEAN TOURISM ASSOCIATION (ETOA)
Secretary General, ETOA – European Tourism Association
“We all want cities to remain appealing and viable places to live, work and visit. ETOA fully recognises Amsterdam’s resident-first approach, and the need to address nuisance and overcrowding. But the use of commercial controls to prevent a well-organised minority of visitors being conducted through parts of the city is an odd move: it is hard to see how it will bring the benefit sought given the continued attractions of the Red Light District. In addition to issues of fairness there are legitimate questions related to due process. Adequate consultation, evidence-collection and sufficient notice of any changes in order that businesses can adapt and plan are vital. Amsterdam will remain one of Europe’s premier destinations, and group tourism is part of its visitor mix. This isn’t about vehicle access, this is about people, and how they are treated. If Amsterdam has decided to use its regulatory powers to discriminate between individual visitors on the basis of how they choose to travel, as opposed to how they behave, we have entered new and uncharted territory.”