From restrictions to reimagination: Amsterdam’s vision for a new tourist economy

The Covid-19 pandemic touched every corner of the world including the Dutch capital Amsterdam. Many entrepreneurs and cultural institutions had to close their doors for a long time during the lockdown. Some went bankrupt, employees lost their jobs, conferences were cancelled. The city’s streets and canals sat eerily empty as visitors stayed home. During this time,  Amsterdam’s city planners set about reimagining what tourism can do for the city.

Red Light means stop – a message to disruptive tourists

Prior to the lockdowns, Amsterdam’s fast-growing visitor economy was presenting real challenges. While the city centre received a large influx of visitors, some groups’ disruptive and antisocial behaviour had a negative impact on the city’s reputation and culture. Local residents took a stand. Community-led campaigns like “We live here“, were launched to showcase images and stories of families on shop windows and doors, with the aim of making visitors more aware that everyday people call the Red Light District home. As tourism returned after the lockdown, Amsterdam locals once again got active and momentum started building for change.

At amsterdam&partners, we pulled together over a hundred stakeholders, including experts, partners, residents, organisations, entrepreneurs, businesses and cultural institutions from all over the city. They worked together to design a tourism reset – one that is socially, ecologically and economically sustainable. Many of the recommendations developed by the stakeholder groups as part of the tourism reset were implemented by authorities with positive outcomes. The result is a more liveable Amsterdam, one that we can all be proud to call home.

Redesigning the evening ecomony

Action has been taken to combat anti-social behaviour such as substance abuse, and to avoid monoculture in the city centre. In November 2022, a new policy was launched to limit tourism growth and nuisance. These include the tightening of opening hours for entertainment and window prostitution in the Red Light District, measures to reduce the nuisance from bachelor parties and potentially banning bar crawls.

Furthermore, the city aims to work with residence and entrepreneurs to express the local identity of each neighbourhood and attract tourism to other parts of the city and the metropolitan area. This way tourism shouldn’t affect liveability and add value to the liveability of our beloved Amsterdam.

This redesign tackles a range of issues, restoring the balance between living, working and hosting visitors that add value to the destination and its residents. It supports the management of the evening economy to better organise public spaces for both residents and visitors.

We want to attract visitors who appreciate the unique character of our city and support these places and services that improve the liveability of our city, while also rewarding good business practices and involving local communities in decision-making processes.

Answers for Amsterdam?

Amsterdam boasts a population of over 882 000 residents and will welcome 18 million visitors in 2023. In an effort to combat the antisocial behaviour, the local government has recently launched a "stay away" campaign, targeting 18–25-year-old men coming from Great Britain. This is just one of several measures being rolled out by the city of Amsterdam to address the problem, with more in the pipeline, including potentially a tourism tax. It's clear that residents are determined to turn a new page in the city's tourism story.

We will continue to grapple with the complex question of how to shape the behaviours of various groups that we guide through our city. This includes residents, business and leisure visitors, event organisers, CEOs of companies and start-ups.

To tackle this challenge, we are diving deep into how we can leverage behavioural data and AI to inspire, inform and activate all these target groups. We want to reinforce our online and offline communication channels and campaigns to attract visitors that add value to our city and its residents while preserving its liveability.

Together we are working towards a more sustainable and inclusive visitor economy so future generations can also live work and welcome visitors in our beautiful metropolitan area.

Read more about OECD work on Cities.

Director at Amsterdam&partners | + posts

Geerte Udo is the director of amsterdam&partners. Her analytical approach and ability to translate complex issues into practical solutions can directly benefit your organisation. Geerte Udo holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from Leiden University. Prior to joining amsterdam&partners in 2006, she worked as a consultant for KPMG and Twijnstra Gudde Management Consultants. Since 2013, Geerte has led the marketing strategy at amsterdam&partners, using her analytical mind to develop strategies focused on the profiling and presentation of Amsterdam and the metropolitan region. She is able to balance the needs of various stakeholders (local residents, companies, visitors) as she implements successful product and service concepts. She closely monitors all regional developments, translating the ever-changing environment into a clear marketing direction and approach. Geerte is responsible for the foundation the I amsterdam campaign, which expresses the Amsterdam DNA in a visible, appealing and relatable way.