Tourism well as local inhabitants. However, the negative

Tourism in
urban destinations. The downside of tourism in Amsterdam

Ben Wielenga –
Cultural Geography: track Tourism Geography and Planning, University of
Student number: s3537439
E-mail: [email protected]
Word count:

1.    Introduction

For many years the city of Amsterdam
has been an allurement for a wide range of cultural visitors (both foreign and
domestic) who are aiming for visiting its numerous landmarks, highly recognized
museums, distinctive buildings, and architecture, but also to enjoy the cities’
vibrant districts as well as nightlife. Tourism is the economic engine of
Amsterdam. In comparison with 2010, expenditures of visitors rose from 12
billion to 21 billion euros in 2016 (van Zoelen, 2017) and the number of
visitors is annually growing with approximately 5%. It is expected that 23
million visitors will visit Amsterdam in 2025 (Couzy, 2016) and that the amount
of hotel rooms continues to grow until 2023 with an extra 7.900 rooms (Hilderink,
2017). Obviously, these developments have many positive effects on local income,
employment numbers, the atmosphere within the inner-city, multiculturalism as
well as the development of new facilities accessible to both visitors as well
as local inhabitants. However, the negative effects of tourism on locals have
been underexposed and neglected for years and currently overshadow the positive
ones. Consequently, this essay will be dealing with the following question:
which effects do the constantly growing number of visitors have on the quality
of life of inhabitants living in Amsterdam?

In the first place, the
essay starts with a theory section that shortly outlines the importance of
tourism to local economies and a definition of cultural tourism as well as its
associated components. Subsequently, the focus will be on the importance of cultural
tourism for Amsterdam and the effects of tourism on quality of life of
inhabitants in European cities. Thereafter, the methodology will be shortly
explained, followed by the empirical results based on three interviews with
inhabitants of Amsterdam in the analysis section. The essay will be concluded
by stating the most important outcomes.

2.    Theory section

Tourism is seen as one of the most
important export sectors within multifarious countries, and one of the main
contributors to local economic development (Ohlan, 2017). WTCC (2017) argues
that 292 million jobs were located in the tourism sector in 2016 and
contributed to 10,2% of the global Gross Domestic Product. Moreover, 1 out of
10 jobs worldwide were to be found in tourism and this number still continues
to grow.

2.1. Cultural tourism

One of the subdivisions or sectors
within tourism is cultural tourism. Visiting cultural attractions counts for
40% to the global tourism market (OECD, 2009), however, without taking into
consideration if these visitors are accidental cultural visitors or visitors
that have their primary motivations within visiting cultural attractions.

Du Cross & McKercher
(2015) present a widely accepted definition of cultural tourism that focuses on
a destinations’ cultural assets that are created into cultural products for the
benefit of tourists. Cultural assets, in this case, might consist of immovable
objects as well as tangible, intangible and creative activities (Richards,
2011) such as museums, monuments, archaeological sites, cathedrals theatres,
galleries, festivals, traditions, gastronomy, amongst others (Smith, 2016). Smith
(2016) furthermore argues that cultural tourism is gradually growing and constantly
subject to change and development. As a result, cultural tourism in its
contemporary form might be increasingly difficult to define (Noonan &
Rizzo, 2017) as a wide range of activities has components of culture involved.
Worldwide cultural tourism, however, increases with tourists seeking for new,
authentic and genuine experiences in both urban and rural areas. Nevertheless, primary
motivations of cultural tourists mostly do not only focus on gathering cultural
experiences. Relaxation, recreation, and fun are also important motives for holidaymakers
(Smith, 2016).

2.2. Amsterdam as a
(cultural) tourism destination

Due to factors such as economic development,
the increasing promotion and importance of urban tourism, the growing
possibilities for cheap (seasonal) travelling (Gerritsma & Vork, 2017) as
well as the presence of new accommodation possibilities such as Airbnb
(Kottasová, 2017), tourism is growing in European cities such as Amsterdam,
amongst others. In 2000, the city received approximately eight million
overnight stays (Gemeente Amsterdam, Bureau Onderzoek, Informatie &
Statistiek, 2002). Presently, this number is already achieved after half a

Having stated some of the
economic effects of tourism on the economy of Amsterdam in the introduction,
the city is yearly announced as one of the most visited cultural tourism
destinations in Europe. Although Amsterdam is being visited by a wide variety
of tourists with different motivations and expectations,  the majority of them are interested in
visiting the cities’ museums and art exhibitions (NBTC, 2016; SP, 2017). Amsterdam
was in place 28 in the top-100 worldwide city destinations in 2017, ranked with
6,570.400 tourist arrivals (Geerts et al., 2017). Larger European cities such
as London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Prague, Barcelona and Milan were among the
top-25 worldwide most visited European destinations worldwide. As can be seen in
table 1, among the European cities, Amsterdam is in place eight when it comes
to cultural destinations, leaving popular cities such as Vienna and Berlin



arrivals per year


Size of city




8,8 million

1.572 km2




2,2 million

105,4 km2




2,9 million

1.285 km2




14,8 million

1.539 km2




1,3 million

496 km2




1,6 million

101,9 km2




1,3 million

181,8 km2









1,8 million

414,6 km2




3,5 million

891,8 km2

Table 1. Most visited European cities,
their population, and size (source: adapted from Geerts, et al., 2017)

2.3. Effects of tourism on
quality of life of local inhabitants

Economic and social development may
be achieved as a result of a prosperous local tourism sector that is striving
for a precise and constructive resource management (Catudan, 2016). However, too
good management and overexploitation of (cultural) resources may eventually
result in the opposite, in a destination losing its equilibrium between on the
one hand liveability for locals and, on the other hand, growing tourism numbers
(Pinkster & Boterman, 2017). What has started for numerous cities as a
means for revitalizing city centres, promoting their cultural treasures to outsiders,
stimulating local economies, improvement of local service levels, development
of infrastructure and public transportation networks (Afthanorhan et al., 2017),
nowadays, several European cities that are famous for their cultural attributes
are increasingly facing the disadvantages of tourism as it is negatively impacting
its inhabitants. As a result, many parties currently focus on studying the
negative socio-cultural impacts of tourism on local societies in urban contexts,
rather than the positive effects (Gerritsma & Vork, 2017).

Zamani-Farahani &
Musa (2012) mention negative impacts such as migration of communities to other
areas that differ from previously living conditions, increasing numbers of
criminality and prostitution that might come along with tourism development in
urban environments. From a government perspective, in cities such as Barcelona,
Berlin, and Amsterdam the issue of an escalating tourism sector is so urgent
that it is placed as one of the most important items on political agendas. Especially
in the smaller size cities mentioned in table 1 such as Barcelona, Milan and
Amsterdam, but also in larger cities such as Rome, protests by inhabitants
against tourism are expanding. Noise nuisance, contamination, increasing prices
for living, commercialisation of neighbourhoods, migration of inhabitants to
other places (Kottasová, 2017) are a few of the mentioned statements of inhabitants
expressing their resistance towards excessive tourism numbers and their effects.
Some measures have been taken in cities in order to balance tourism numbers and
quality of life of locals. Those are measures such as preventing public
drinking, restrictions to food trucks and selfie sticks (Coldwell, 2017)
installing tourist police, controlling the number of cruise ships, limiting the
number of hotel rooms, decreasing the number of permits for takeaway shops,
instruction campaigns and tourist tax (Kottasová, 2017) that should give rise
to tourists being encouraged to show appropriate behaviour and improved living
conditions for locals.

Local authorities and
organisations in Amsterdam also increasingly see the necessity to balance tourism
and quality of life of inhabitants as locals are starting to complain or stand
up against the continuous tourism development in Amsterdam (Pijbes, 2014; Couzy,
2017) as it is affecting their daily lives as well. It is mentioned that
inhabitants avoid certain locations intentionally, particularly within the old
part of the city centre (Boon, 2016), or even move to locations outside the
city centre or outside Amsterdam. The other effects mentioned earlier in this
section also apply to Amsterdam. However, Amsterdam is taking several measures
in order to find a balance between tourism and quality of life of locals. One
of them is to spread tourism in- and outside Amsterdam with mentioning other
Dutch destinations in the vicinity of the city for example as Amsterdam Beach
(Zandvoort), Flowers of Amsterdam (Keukenhof) and Castles and Gardens of
Amsterdam (Muiderslot) (AT5, 2016).


On the basis of the visitor pressure
concept developed by Postma (2013), semi-structured interviews with three
respondents have been carried out in 2015 as part of an unpublished pilot
research project performed by the author in favour of the European Tourism
Futures Institute (ETFI). The data of the interviews is still relevant to date
as the research project is still continuing (in other European cities as well),
and provides data on how inhabitants perceive tourism in Amsterdam.

The visitor pressure concept is based on critical incidents that have a
substantial impact on respondents. Critical incidents can be experienced in a
positive or negative nature (Anton, 1996). To assess respondents’ responses to critical
incidents, measurement tools have been developed defining the level of
emotional and behavioural responses. These are presented and explained in
figure 1.

In order to receive a diversity
in information, the author decided on making use of qualitative research by applying
semi-structured interviews. This interview technique is allowing the respondent
to share a substantial amount of information since it is a rather open
technique to obtain topic-related information. Moreover, it leaves room for the
respondent to add his or her own comments (Veal, 2014). At the time respondents shared their experiences, the author generally
asked follow-up questions such as ‘where did it occur?’ or ‘how did
you feel afterwards?’ in order to stimulate respondents to elaborate their
experiences to a greater extent.