The summer travel season is officially underway and countless destinations are vying for your attention and your money.
There are great deals and even greater promises, all of them virtually begging that you come and visit.
But one European city that draws tens of millions of American tourists per year has got some news for you – they don’t want you there.
Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands (aka Holland), brings to mind magical images of tulip fields, windmills, canals, and quaint little cottages.
We can just picture ourselves biking down a quiet street with a basket of fresh-cut blooms between the handlebars, the wind blowing through our hair as we take in the enchanting landscape.
But the beauty and heritage of Amsterdam has made it such a popular destination that the natives are getting seriously annoyed.
Tourists are clogging their streets, gawking at the images that would land them in jail in the U.S., and being obnoxious while taking photos.
We want that perfect little “Dutch Wonderland” experience, but apparently, we’re ruining it for those who actually live there.
“Over-tourism” has been the bane of many a European city’s existence, and now Amsterdam is seeing so many people come visit that the very beauty and attractions which brought them in are in danger of being ruined forever.
Well now they’ve had enough… and they seriously want us to go away.
Don’t Tiptoe Through the Tulips!
When you think of the Netherlands, tulips are probably the first thing that pops into your head.
Incredible, sweeping fields of tulips in perfect rows and in every color you can imagine. The Dutch are proud of their tulips, which are a major boon to their economy.
The relationship between tulips and the Netherlands started in the mid-1500s as tulip bulbs were imported into the area from the Ottoman Empire.
When Carolus Clusius wrote a book about their splendor in 1592, he began a craze for which he would pay dearly for the rest of his life. Back before privacy fences and motion sensors, Carolus saw his tulip garden raided each year as his neighbors stole the illustrious flowers.
Now it appears annoying tourists are destroying over 400 years of careful cultivation by stomping through the tulip fields in search of the perfect selfie.
I don’t blame the locals for being mad at this one. I guess I come from a different generation, but I grew up knowing I darn well better not ever step on anybody’s flowers if I wanted to keep my neck from being wrung.
Not to blame everything on millennials, but young people who have grown up thinking that memories cannot made without a couple dozen pictures of themselves in the moment aren’t even paying attention to the damage they’re inflicting.
In response, the government of the Netherlands has issued a “Dos and Don’ts” guide for visiting the tulip fields on their national visitors’ website, as well as posting signs all over the place around tulip fields.
There’s even a section entitled, “How to Take a Tulip-Friendly Selfie.” Yes, it’s that bad.
They’re seeing hundreds of thousands of euros in damage to tulips by selfie-crazed tourists each year and, needless to say, this is one of the main reasons the city of Amsterdam and residents of the surrounding countryside want us to go away.
We’re Too Obnoxious For Words
So in addition to trampling their tulip fields – and farmers’ livelihood – with careless disregard, tourists are also plowing down the locals riding on those cute little bikes all through their narrow streets.
We’re crowding their squares and neighborhoods to the point that residents have trouble leaving their homes.
When they do, they find their stores and cafes packed, the traffic unbearable, and their tempers flared.
They’re sick of dealing with the scourge of tourists and they’ve decided to put a stop to it.
We Should Be Ashamed
And then there’s the little matter of one of Amsterdam’s most famous tourist attractions – the Red Light District.
Now, Americans are by no means prudes, as evidenced by just about anything we see in the entertainment industry these days. But our interest is still piqued by the fact that prostitution is not only legal there, but advertised and on full-display at all hours of the day and night.
In fact, the “Things To Do In Amsterdam” travel site describes, “While prostitution can be found all across the globe, it usually happens behind closed doors. But not in Amsterdam!”
There’s even a Prostitution Information Center and a former brothel-turned-museum that promises, “You can actually experience sitting in a window to feel what it would be like, working from a window in this neighbourhood.”
While that’s probably the last travel experience I’d ever consider with my mid-life mom-of-four body, can you blame tourists for being a little curious with marketing like that?
But, along with the pesky pickpockets (that one website “convincingly” said is really the only danger in the RDL), we seem to be ruining Amsterdam’s sex district too.
Here we go again with the selfies and the rude behavior.
Tourists are walking down the streets in a daze of shock and awe asking sex workers to pose for selfies or bombarding them by sticking their cell phones in their faces trying to get that “they’ll never believe this back home” video to post on social media.
Again, the city had to post “Dos and Don’ts” for how to treat prostitutes in the Red Light District, something that typically was handled by tour companies who would dole out a list of “rules of behavior” to tourists when they hopped on the bus.
Yes, there are guided tours of the steamy Red Light District… at least there will be until January 1st, 2020. It’s all become a little too much for the prostitutes – and for district residents.
The crowded alleys and streets full of obnoxious gawkers brought about the change. City Alderman Udo Kock released a statement saying, “We do not consider it appropriate for tourists to leer at sex workers.”
Hmm, this seems a little ironic, doesn’t it? I mean, this is their chosen profession and they’re literally sitting in a window for everyone to see. Is it really the tourists’ fault here for stopping to stare?
They really mean it…
If there was any doubt about how Amsterdam’s city government and residents feel about the throngs of annoying tourists bombarding their city, we can look no further than the fact that they have literally pulled in the welcome mat.
Amsterdam’s iconic symbol of welcome – the “I Amsterdam” sign – has also been causing problems because of too many tourists.
There are a couple of them, but the most popular one was located at Museumplein. It was attracting too many selfie-seekers who so crowded the sign that streets were clogged and the massive letters could barely be seen.
As of December of last year, it was moved from the heart of the city and cycles around to different locations where tourists don’t typically visit. It moves from town to town, a national treasure that the nation apparently doesn’t want to share.
It’s kind of like a game of hide-and-seek, except they don’t want you to find it.
I promise I’ll be good.
But have no fear, Amsterdam is not closing to tourists.
That would be a little counter-productive considering the city brings in over 80 billion euros ($100 billion U.S.) annually from tourism.
At this rate, they anticipate that by 2030, visitors will surge to more than 50 times the city’s population annually.
They’ve got a little bit of everything – a history that includes temporary residents like Vincent Van Gogh and Anne Frank (with museums dedicated to their incredible, yet tragic, lives), stunning landscapes and waterways, and some illicit intrigue.
But in looking for a way to balance the needs of their economy and the preservation of their nation’s treasures and sanity, they are going to stop advertising and encouraging tourism.
They can’t staunch the flow completely, but they do want to slow it down. They’ve decided to “manage” rather than “promote.”
“The reason tourists come here is because there’s something in the character of Amsterdam they love,” explains an architect to CNN. “But at a certain point, when the amount of tourists is increasing and increasing, they actually kill what they loved in the first place.”
While tourists are still able to visit Amsterdam, we might want to ask ourselves if we really want to use our precious travel days to go where we’re not welcome with open arms.
It would be kind of like visiting someone’s home and having them hide the extra towels and toilet paper so you feel compelled to leave. They think, “maybe they’ll get the message.”
But maybe the residents of Amsterdam just want all of us to be a little more respectful, a lot less obnoxious, and take a little more care to put ourselves in their shoes. Maybe they just want to restore balance.
But, for now, the message is clear: We’d prefer if you go somewhere else this year.