The vibrant city of Amsterdam is experiencing a notable shift in its tourism dynamics as the much-discussed “stay away” campaign gains traction.
The once-famous influx of British tourists, known for their boisterous stag and hen nights, is showing signs of decline in the wake of the municipality’s concerted efforts to deter such behavior.
According to theguardian.com, Brits on tour!” laughed Devon Bennett, finishing her English breakfast at the all-day brunch restaurant Greenwoods. The 23-year-old from Brighton was in Amsterdam with 20 old school friends, attracted by the city’s reputation for freedom, fun and frolics.
“If weed wasn’t legal,” said her friend Chloé Bishop, “people wouldn’t come here just to get high.” But there is some evidence that high times are ending for partying Britons, whose stag and hen nights have become a byword for tourist nuisance in Amsterdam’s red light district. Earlier this year, the municipality made headlines with an extraordinary “dissuasion” campaign targeting British men aged 18 to 34.
A search for terms such as “stag night” or “cheap hotel Amsterdam” was a trigger for dire government adverts warning that a messy night taking drugs and getting trashed in the Dutch capital could lead to a €140 fine, a criminal record and permanent health damage. Although many Dutch pundits were critical of the campaign, research by the travel industry analyst ForwardKeys based on the International Air Transport Association (IATA) ticketing database suggests it may be working: flights between the UK and Amsterdam fell by 22% between 2019 and this year, while there were rises in destinations such as Paris and Athens.
Amsterdam council says its own figures, based on World Travel & Tourism Council analysis, show a “light drop” in UK travellers in the period. Bert Nap, a long-term city centre resident who is truly fed up with partygoers screaming at the top of their lungs and vomiting on his house, is seeing a difference. “We’ve noticed that the number of stag party-type visitors is less than before,” he said. “
Just after Covid it came back full force. Then came the ‘stay away’ campaign and we have indeed noticed a decrease in the kind of visitor who goes absolutely wild.” He added: “It was mostly British young visitors coming here in groups, on flights for less than a round of beer. Alcohol is often involved and foreign visitors, especially the English and Irish, start drinking early in the morning.
People are very welcome in Amsterdam but we are not a playground for misbehaviour.” Alongside cities such as Barcelona and Venice, Amsterdam authorities are taking dramatic measures to stop nuisance tourism, even if it means tourists staying away: in the spring they introduced earlier closing times for brothels and bars in the red light district, banned cannabis smoking on the streets and started the “stay away” campaign.
“In recent years, the municipality has taken various measures and run campaigns to limit the growth in tourism and nuisance,” a council spokesperson told the Guardian. “It’s important to stress that this is not only aimed at Britons but general measures aiming to counter a worldwide growth in nuisance tourism.
So the council looks hopefully at these figures.” Not everyone is quite so hopeful. This summer, Amsterdam did not issue a single fine for tourists breaking the ban on outdoor cannabis smoking, and while the police presence was greater on the streets when the Guardian visited, many stress that prevention is key. “It is better to combat nuisance than to be preoccupied with visitor numbers,” said Maarten Bruinsma, of the B&B association Amsterdam Gastvrij, who points out that local hosts do not want partying excesses either.
Businesses are not sure anything has changed. Theodoor van Boven, the founding director of the Condomerie shop in the red light district, quoted a WhatsApp group of owners. “One flower business has less nuisance, a chic restaurant says ‘now all you have are the absolute lowlife from England’ and another says ‘the English are the best because they always pay their bills’,” he said. “I don’t notice a big difference myself.” Others believe the “stay away” campaign has even damaged Amsterdam’s reputation as a historic place of shelter and hospitality. Marco Lemmers, the chief executive of Conscious Hotels, points out that plans to target other countries have not yet happened, stigmatising the Britons.
“People are saying that it’s a success,” he said. “But is it a success if you have made your country sound unwelcoming? From that perspective, you could certainly say they have achieved something.” It is unusual for a country to destimulate tourism, says David Tarsh, a spokesperson for ForwardKeys, who notes that while flight restrictions at Schiphol are having an effect, ForwardKeys data does not represent cheap carriers such as easyJet, while Ryanair capacity from Manchester and Edinburgh to Eindhoven has increased. “Nearly every country in the world wants tourists,” he said.
“Tourists come and spend foreign currency, it’s the easiest export revenue you can get and it’s hugely valuable for the economy and a spread of jobs.” Lars Duursma, a communications expert who produced an alternative campaign depicting rich Britons staying away in pique, points out that Amsterdam is raising tourist taxes next year.
“If the steering force at Amsterdam municipality is to have fewer tourists, a lot of people will say: watch out because they bring us a lot of money and we have financial problems right now,” he said. The Dutch have also done nothing to tackle their own problem young men, whose hooliganism is equally notorious internationally and who are, according to Nap, “the hardest to talk to”. One travel expert believes it’s convenient to blame a group now unprotected by EU freedom of movement rights post-Brexit. “When things don’t go well, it’s basic human nature to look for someone to blame,” he said.
“Maybe that’s what’s going on here to a certain extent and it usually plays well with the domestic audience because people tend to be tribal.” On the streets of the red light district on Thursday night after Ajax had lost to Brighton in the Europa League – there were few signs that the party had abated. Rob Buckwell, 50, from Brighton, visiting with his son Ben and two friends, was in the city for an old-fashioned good time and thinks it is a shame a few idiots give Britons a bad image. “We haven’t done drugs – it’s pure adrenaline,” he said amicably. “We’re high on life!”