By Imane Rachidi
Amsterdam, Oct 19 (efe-epa).- Before Covid-19, one of the defining images of Amsterdam was the groups of foreign tourists posing for photos along the Dutch capital’s picturesque canals and dragging their suitcases through the city’s narrow alleys in the Red Light District.
But travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic has seen the number of foreign visitors to one of the world’s tourist capitals plummet by a whopping 71 percent.
Even though visitors are not required to pass a PCR test or go into quarantine upon arrival, Amsterdam today is a relative ghost town. The Red Light District’s sex workers have hardly any clients, and the city’s normally bustling cannabis cafes are mellower than ever.
The normally packed tour boats snaking through the city’s canals are parked; bikes crowd the footpaths outside rental shops; and the long queues outside the Vincent Van Gogh and Anne Frank museums have disappeared.
Dutch authorities began the year expecting to welcome some 22 million visitors in 2020, and were wondering how they would bring mass tourism under control amid soaring housing prices that were forcing locals out of the city, which has one of the priciest real estate markets in Europe.
But now officials are predicting a 70 percent drop of international tourists this year.
Even domestic tourist numbers are lower — by 36 percent — than 2019.
According to Jos Vranken, the director of the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions (NBTC), the current figures are comparable to those of the 1990s because the tourism industry is in a severe depression. Vranken does not expect the sector to recover until 2024, he told national broadcaster NOS last month.
Museums are also feeling the strain, having seen the number of visitors drop dramatically from 32.7 million last year to around 8.7 million this year, according to the Dutch Museum Association.
The city’s numerous art galleries are also suffering, reporting income losses of around 300 million euros compared to 2019, while Amsterdam’s world famous nightlife and party scene is also in dire straits, with numerous concert halls, nightclubs and other venues at risk of closing permanently.
Despite the economic hardships, some locals are breathing a sigh of relief now that foreign tourists — many of whom visit primarily to take advantage of the city’s lax approach to drug law enforcement — are not crowding the streets, cafes and restaurants of downtown.
Tourist bureau Amsterdam & Partners has launched a campaign to encourage Amsterdamers to rediscover their town, having avoided the city center and its seedy underbelly for years.
Geerte Udo, the initiative’s leader, told local media that they were aiming to rebuild the city’s tourism so that it is sustainable, both socially and economically.
In practice, that means fewer stag dos and hen parties crowding the once seedy Red Light District in favor of an audience that is more interested in visiting Amsterdam’s cultural and historic attractions.
When exactly this class of “better” tourists will be allowed to visit once the pandemic is over remains unknown. EFE-EPA