The Dutch have suffered some brutal occupations, from the Roman empire and Viking raids to Spanish and Nazi rule. But now they face an even larger army of invaders: tourists.
In the era of cheap flights and Airbnb, their numbers are staggering. Some 19 million tourists visited the Netherlands last year, more people than live there. For a country half the size of South Carolina, with one of the world’s highest population densities, that’s a lot. And according to the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, the number of annual visitors is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next decade, to 29 million. Urban planners and city officials have a word for what the Netherlands and quite a few other European countries are experiencing: overtourism. With such an influx of humanity comes a decline in quality of life. Residents’ complaints range from inconvenience (crowds spilling from sidewalks to streets) to vandalism to alcohol-induced defilement (vomiting in flower boxes, urinating in mailboxes).
Amsterdam, with its museums, guided canal tours, and picturesque architecture, sees much of this collateral damage. To combat it, the city recently passed various pieces of legislation, including a moratorium on new hotel construction in much of the city; new fines (140 euros for public urination or drunk and disorderly conduct); new restrictions on Airbnb rentals (30 nights a year per unit); and a combination of bans and restrictions on new tourist-centric businesses, such as bike-rental outfits and donut shops, in the historic city center. Guided tours of the city’s Red Light District will be banned in January 2020, and thanks to new government regulations, many of its cannabis “coffee shops”—the first of which dates back to 1967—have closed. There’s even talk of charging day-trippers to set foot in the city, a bold policy recently enacted in Venice. Perhaps most telling, earlier this year the Dutch tourism board officially shifted its mission from “destination promotion” to “destination management.”