Written by Iliana Magra
Amsterdam is to ban guided tours of its notorious red-light district, the latest move by the city to tackle overcrowding and improve working conditions for prostitutes in the area.
“We are banning tours that take visitors along sex workers’ windows, not only because we want to prevent overcrowding in the red-light district, but also because it is not respectful to sex workers,” Udo Kock, Amsterdam’s deputy mayor, said in a statement Wednesday.
“It is outdated to treat sex workers as a tourist attraction,” he added.
The ban will come into effect Jan. 1, as will bans on free tours and on soliciting visitors to take part in tours, the statement said.
Although Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, has distinctive cultural gems — galleries, museums, restaurants and its iconic canals, to mention just a few — for decades, tourists have also been attracted to the city for marijuana and prostitution, both of which are largely legal there.
But its popularity as a relatively low-cost, versatile destination has seen the number of visitors rise to the asphyxiating level of about 19 million a year.
The overcrowded streets and rowdy behavior of some tourists have increasingly posed problems for Dutch officials. More than 1,000 guided tours pass through the Oudekerksplein — the main square in the red-light district — every week, city officials said. But the crowds have not been beneficial for prostitutes, who tend to be gawked at by visitors while potential paying clients are put off.
The city said that residents and local businesses in the red-light district “experience disturbances caused by groups of tourists” and that 80 percent of the prostitutes consulted said that the tours “had a negative effect on their business.”
“In addition, sex workers still experience severe problems with participants of guided tours, such as rude behavior and unwanted photographs,” authorities said.
Niek Prast, manager of Strawberry Tours, a small company that organizes guided visits to Amsterdam, said that if the government went ahead with the ban, it would be “a bit of a disaster” for his business.
“I get what they’re trying to achieve,” he said, “but I think that the government wants to see how far they can go; I think they’re waiting for the reaction,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday.
He also said the move was unlikely to solve the problem — and could even make things worse.
“It’s not like no guided tours, no people — the people are still going to go to the red-light district,” he said. “And no one will be there to tell them ‘please be quiet, please behave’ or to educate them about not taking pictures and being respectful.”
Authorities on Wednesday also unveiled related measures to manage tourism, all of which will apply from Jan. 1. They included cutting the maximum number of participants in guided tours of the city to 15 per group, instead of 20; making official accreditation a prerequisite for guides; and introducing an additional tax on tour participants.
Before the ban begins, the city will start to curb tours in the red-light district: Starting April 1, they will not be allowed to take place after 7 p.m. (they are currently allowed until 11 p.m.).
The steps follow several others that Amsterdam authorities have taken to try and regulate overeager, and often inebriated, tourists.
Last year, the administration of Femke Halsema, Amsterdam’s mayor, announced a set of such measures, which included rigorous street cleaning; on-the-spot collection of fines up to 140 euros, or about $160, for public urination, drunkenness or excessive noise; and a marketing campaign to persuade visitors to respect the city and its rules.
Mascha ten Bruggencate, a city administrator who had been tasked with carrying out the policies, said last fall that there was an obvious place to start.
“The red-light district is symbolic of the problem,” she told The Times.