Amsterdam extent that it leads to changes in

Amsterdam as a ‘Tourist
City’. Nijman in his discussion of the effects of cultural globalization in
conjunction with mass tourism on Amsterdam’s identity and culture, argued that
while popular knowledge of the world’s cultural landscape is increasingly global,
understanding of individual places becomes increasingly shallow. The inevitable
result, it seems, is the vulgarization of the world’s cultural geography (1999,

discuss this statement- and the analysis that led Nijman to make it and
illustrate your response with appropriate evidence and examples.

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Cultural globalization
may be defined as an acceleration in the exchange of cultural symbols among
people around the world, to such an extent that it leads to changes in local
popular cultures and identities (Nijman, 1999:148). In the past three decades
or so mass tourism, in conjunction with this globalization, have contributed to
the reconstruction of Amsterdam’s identity. Nijman (1999) argues it has grown
in superficiality to the extent that it is difficult to know the ‘real’
Amsterdam. This essay will critically discuss his statement and the analysis
that led Nijman to make it with reference to the city’s ‘rebranding’ and shift
towards a ‘creative city’ (Iamsterdam, 2018). Field notes collected during the
residential trip will also be used as further evidence, allowing for a first-
hand understanding of the city and the processes that shape its identity.

Amsterdam has a long
history as a tourist destination, ranking today, as one of Europe’s most
popular, however, its emergence as an archetypal ‘tourist city’ is of more recent
origin (Terhorst et al, 2003). In 2016, 17 million people visited the city, up
from 12 million 5 years earlier (Sledgers, 2017) and if the upward trend
continues, the number of visitors could hit 30 million by 2025; intensifying
the impacts on identity. The city presents a culture of tolerance and
liberalism that is not found in most places (Nijman, 1999) and its ‘dual image’
(Terhorst et al, 2003) – the combination of its sexual liberalism and Golden
age heritage, is arguably what makes Amsterdam so important as a ‘tourist
city’. However, Nijman argues, this ‘tolerance’ has become commodified and exaggerated
to coincide with a present-day, liberal image of the city in relation to sex
and drugs (1999). Tourists are drawn to this, unable to access such promiscuity
elsewhere, and therefore a growing number come to ‘let it all hang out’; making
tolerance perhaps Amsterdam’s most prized commodity (Nijman, 1999). The influx
of tourists has also led to the re-identification of Amsterdam as foreign
visitors no longer visit the city for its historic monuments or scenic canals
but instead view the Sex Museum and Red Light District as main cultural sites. Thus,
Nijman (1999) argues Amsterdam’s tolerant and liberal image has emerged under
the influence of global mass tourism, and that it is not as authentic as is
often suggested.

Pinkster and Boterman
(2017) support Nijman’s argument through the shared reference of the ‘theme
park’ metaphor, a free-for-all zone of entertainment for adult fun (Nijman,
1999). The park exists within the inner city and is dedicated to tourists
through ‘artificial’ entertainment such the Hash Museum… and the Cannabis
Connoisseurs’ Club (Nijman, 1999) and do not represent the true culture of
Amsterdam. During the field visit, ‘beer bikes’, an open vehicle that serves as
a mobile bar, appeared a popular tourist activity within the park (Field notes,
07.11.2017), yet demonstrates the commodification of a tradition rooted in
Dutch culture, the bicycle, for the tourist gaze. Therefore, enforcing a
shallow understanding of Amsterdam. Pinkster and Boterman (2017) describe this
as ‘forms of staged authenticity’ where the continuous search for authenticity
triggers the exploitation of local identity for profit. Consequently, the use
of the term ‘theme park’ is used by the locals to summarize what they see as a
loss of authenticity (Pinkster and Boterman, 2017).

The Red Light District,
central to the ‘theme park’ (Nijman, 1999), dates back to the very origins of
Amsterdam as a port city and is one of the oldest venues for visible and legal
urban prostitution (Aalbers and Sabat, 2012). Therefore, it holds an important
part of the city’s identity. However, our visit to the district induced a
contrasting and controversial representation through the dominance of tourists,
taking advantage of its unconventional services. This is reinforced by Rojek
(2000) who argues that the sex industry is closely aligned with tourism and
that these industries not only collide but reinforce each other. We felt that
the economic presence of the tourists was perhaps a defining factor for the
sustainability of the district (Field notes, 06.11.2017). Nijman (1999) argues
that this ‘commercially motivated permissiveness that is in cultural
globalisation and the identity of place is in fact contrary to the city’s
Calvinistic roots’. It suggests a twisted representation of tolerance has
occurred, one that does not echo Amsterdam’s past identity, prior to the era of
mass tourism, but is now exaggerated and encouraged as a result of the
lucrative tourist industry. Thus, the Red Light District highlights Amsterdam
selling its historic identity, perhaps even becoming a ‘caricature’ of its
past’ (Nijman, 1999) and losing a sense of authenticity in the process.

Furthermore, a local we
interviewed, stated she ‘doesn’t go near the Red Light District’ (Shop owner,
personal communication, 07.11.2017), highlighting the distance the locals put
between themselves and the district and signifying the lack of relevance it has
to ordinary life. This reinforces the growing superficiality of urban identities
(Nijman, 1999) as evidently the district does not reflect Amsterdam’s everyday reality. 

In turn, globalisation
has largely influenced Amsterdam’s identity, for example, television, phone and
internet, are key medias of global cultural flows (Nijman, 1999) by fuelling public
perceptions through often exaggerated images of Amsterdam’s liberal attitudes
towards sex. Consequently, if tourists are introduced to the city through such
shallow representations, they will search for these artificial forms of
entertainment during their visit. This is reinforced by the statement ‘the
problem is that Amsterdam has always advertised itself as a city where
everything is possible,’ (Van der Zee, 2017). This suggests the growing numbers
of tourists attracted by this image may have made it a reality, however, the
responsibility also lies with the city’s marketing and the global forces that
fuel these tourist desires. For example, the majority of people have heard
about Amsterdam’s Red Light District well before their visit through the mass
media, leaving nothing to the imagination, and with most stereotypes about this
area being true (Zuckerwise, 2012). Therefore, it raises the question of
whether the changing identity of Amsterdam can be solely blamed on tourists or
is in fact a co-production with cultural globalisation, its impacts and place

Mass tourism has also
affected Amsterdam’s place identity through the growth of commercial shops in
the city centre, targeted at tourists. Whilst exploring the inner city the
quantity of cheese shops were overwhelming with one on every street corner
(Field notes, 06.11.2017), each trying to entice tourists through Amsterdam’s
‘love for cheese’ (See Figure 1). However, the erosion of the everyday,
ordinary function of the area can create permanent loss of place for residents
(Boterman and Pinkster, 2017), for example through the reduced accessibility to
a local post office. This is reinforced by an interview with a local who stated,
‘What used to be our local cheese shop is now called The Cheese Experience…. No
sane Amsterdammer would ever buy a piece of cheese there’ (Van der Zee, 2017). The growing commercialisation
highlights Amsterdam’s dedication to cater to the tourist industry to the
extent that there are concerns of Amsterdam becoming ‘the Venice of the North’;
a museum … without residents (Pinkster and Boterman, 2017). Furthermore, a
process of ‘downgrading and mainstreaming’ has occurred, whereby the area
includes ice cream stores that can be found in any other tourist city (Pinkster
and Boterman, 2017). This reduces Amsterdam’s uniqueness and supports Nijman’s
(1999) view that global tourism has eroded some crucial parts of Amsterdam’s
place authenticity. In the same respect, tourism
induced gentrification has pushed locals out of the inner city through the
increasing rental prices caused by the abuse of Airbnb and other tourist
infrastructure. Thus, Amsterdam’s obsession with selling itself to outsiders, with
tourism as an aggravating factor, arguably deprives citizens from their
‘right to the city’ (Sledgers, 2017). However,
the city government announced a recent agreement with Airbnb to restrict the
length of time that people can rent out their homes to 60 days (Sledgers, 2017),
highlighting an active attempt to reclaim the city’s identity for its residents
and reduce negative impacts of mass tourism on its historic core.


Growing concerns that ‘shallow
representations’ (Nijman, 1999) risk jeopardising Amsterdam’s future prospects
as a tourist city and role in global economy, has led to further government involvement
in regard to its identity. For example, the ‘I am Amsterdam’ marketing campaign
was introduced in 2004 and involved the ‘re-branding’ (Kavaratzis and Ashworth, 2012) of the city with ideas
towards a ‘creative city’ to attract both tourists and businesses. The ‘I Amsterdam’
motto created a brand for the city, ‘allowing people to voice their pride and confidence while expressing
support and love for their city’ (Stamp, 2012). This highlights power being
regained by the individuals that ultimately define Amsterdam, adding
authenticity. The idea of the ‘I’ invites tourists to actively involve
themselves with the city’s identity as it suggests it is what you make it,
rather than a city you passively consume, which also encourages a more authentic
experience. In turn, tourists often share pictures on social media of
themselves by the monument, making it a tourist attraction in itself and
helping to globalise and sell Amsterdam as a brand (see Figure 2). Thus, the
city is represented an important node in the global circuit of urban tourist


The campaign also
involved the strengthening of ‘creative industries’ to stimulate economic development,
for example the ‘Zuidas’ project which links image
with visible development (Kavaratzis and Ashworth, 2012).
We visited the Zuidas, located on South East outskirts of Amsterdam and met with representatives of the project who explained
plans of a ‘creative and cultural environment’ through a mixed space area that
attracts investors, businesses and tourists (Field notes, 07.11.2017). For
example, plans for 2030 include the construction of a ‘living area’ with 7000
mixed housing, a museum and parks to create a ‘vibrant living space’
(Tattersall, D, Meeting with Zuidas representatives, 07.11.2017). Development
of cultural entertainments on the city’s peripheral could also diffuse the
over-concentration of tourists in Amsterdam’s historic core that we experienced,
and thus the subsequent negative impacts. Furthermore, the Zuidas’s strategic
location, nearby Schiphol airport, makes it desirable
for international businesses (Tattersall, D, Meeting with Zuidas
representatives, 07.11.2017), promoting international trade and economic
development. The shift towards a ‘creative city’ demonstrates the change in Amsterdam’s
culture and identity in the context of globalization, as Amsterdam becomes an
important ‘node’ (Nijman, 1999) in the cultural network. Furthermore, it
provides tourists with a new and matured image of the city that could offset
current superficialities through encouraging them to identity with the city,
more so than others. This attitude is reflected in the Amsterdam Manifesto,
‘its live-ability and its creativity set it apart from other major European cities…’
(Iamsterdam, 2018).

On the other hand, it has
been argued that ‘global capital has turned creativity itself into a branded
commodity’ (De Waard, 2012) which questions the motives behind the cultural
change and who the ultimate winners are. Furthermore, the approach is perhaps
not as unique as first appeared, as Nijman (1999) anticipated Amsterdam
becoming ‘one of the originals …increasingly easy to confuse with all of the
pale imitations’ (De Waard, 2012), therefore the authenticity is again

In conclusion, mass
tourism, as a vehicle of cultural globalisation, has played an instrumental role
in the reconstruction of Amsterdam’s identity, not only in receiving the
‘composite’ image (Nijman, 1999) but in actively changing its urban structure.
This essay explored Nijman’s analysis of the erosion of  Amsterdam’s ‘authenticity’ as a result of mass
tourism by exploring key cultural attractions such as The Red Light District; ultimately
supporting his argument. It is clear Amsterdam’s identity of ‘tolerance’
(Nijman, 1999) has become an exaggerated version of its historic past to cater
for the lucrative tourist industry, therefore perhaps becoming Amsterdam’s
‘most prized commodity’ (Nijman, 1999) and encouraging a shallow understanding
of the city. However, the essay also draws upon the contemporary re-branding of
the city, promoting Amsterdam as more than just a city of canals, drugs and sex,
but provides benefits for its place identity, residents and relevant stake
holders. Thus, it suggests Amsterdam’s identity is continually changing, perhaps
in a direction away from certain superficialities discussed above.

2020 words.


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M (2012) Re-making a Landscape of Prostitution: the Amsterdam Red Light
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Hunt, E. (2018) Cheesed off: Amsterdam to curb tourist shops
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I Amsterdam (2018) What is I
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Kavaratzis, M & Ashworth, G. J. (2012) I Amsterdam – The campaign to
re-brand Amsterdam. online Available at:
I Amsterdam – The campaign to re-brand Amsterdam
Accessed 4 Jan. 2018.

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Cultural globalization and the identity of place: The reconstruction of
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6(2), 146-164

Pinkster, F.M. & Boterman,W.R.
(2017) When the spell is broken: gentrification, urban tourism and privileged
discontent in the Amsterdam canal district.
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Stamp, J
(2012) Rebranding Amsterdam and What It
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Accessed 3 Jan. 2018.

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Terhorst, P., van de Ven,
J. & Deben, L. (2003) ‘Amsterdam:
it’s all in the mix’. In Hoffman, L., Fainstein, S.S. & Judd, D. eds.,
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Van der Zee, R (2017) Amsterdammers v
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