Amsterdam Bans Cruise Ships To Fight Overtourism: City’s Identity Crisis Reaches New Heights

The first of many?

Amsterdam Bans Cruise Ships To Fight Overtourism: City’s Identity Crisis Reaches New Heights

Image: The Times

Amsterdam has announced that it plans to ban gargantuan cruise ships from its ports in an effort to curb overtourism and environmental strain, following in the steps of Venice’s historic centre.

Cruise ships are pretty impressive vessels: they can pull off three-point turns in Sydney Harbour, play home to a luxurious new Rolex boutique, and — for the morbid among you — even provide ad-hoc body storage when more tailor-made containers prove hard to find. Despite all of this, however, the good people of Amsterdam have seen fit to ban them from its historic port, citing overtourism and ecological concerns.

Amsterdam, renowned for its picturesque canals and cultural heritage, has taken a decisive step to combat over-tourism by banning “polluting” cruise ships from its port. The city’s council recently approved a proposal to close the city’s cruise ship terminal, marking a significant move in the battle against overwhelming tourist numbers, as reported by CNN.

WATCH: The BBC breaks the news to the world.

Backed by a strong majority, the decision was pushed through by the centre-left D66 party. With an ever-increasing influx of tourists, Amsterdam is grappling with the challenge of managing a projected 18 million overnight visitors this year and up to 23 million by 2025, along with an additional 24 to 25 million day visitors. In a statement, D66 party chairwoman Ilana Rooderkerk emphasized that:

“Polluting cruise ships do not fit with the sustainable ambitions [of Amsterdam].”

Ilana Rooderkerk

Implementing the proposal will require careful management of varied stakeholder interests, including the managers of the North Sea Canal, other canal-side cities, and the Dutch government. This decision follows hot on the heels of the city’s “Stay Away” campaign, specially designed to discourage British tourists on stag parties from indulging in lewd and overindulgent behaviour, such as excessive drinking, drug use, and antisocial behaviour.

In addition to curbing cruise ship pollution, Amsterdam has recently taken steps to address issues in its red light district, historically associated with the legal sex trade. The city banned the use of marijuana on the streets and initiated measures to discourage alcohol consumption in the area. Moreover, in 2019, tours of the red light district were discontinued to prevent the exploitation of sex workers as tourist attractions, as reported by The Guardian.

Ilana Rooderkerk of the DD6 party, which pushed the decision into being. Image: Ilana Rooderkerk

As part of its broader plan to tackle overtourism, Amsterdam is considering additional measures such as the restriction of river cruises, conversion of hotels into office spaces, and enforcing earlier closing times for bars and clubs. Despite the strides made, city spokespeople acknowledge that turning the city centre into a cruise-free zone won’t happen overnight, requiring a good deal of time to collaborate with all relevant parties.

The question that all of these decisions have raised for many is a simple one: if Amsterdam wants to curb tourist numbers and do some good for the environment, why doesn’t it ban recreational drug use and sex work altogether? Given that these things drive massive amounts of the city’s tourism, resulting in more people in the city, many of whom take highly polluting means of transport to get to the city in the first place. Curbing where they can imbibe their various substances seems to miss the point a little, some would argue.

What these people may not fully understand, however, is that Amsterdam has a long and very proud heritage as an “island” of liberalism in historically conservative Western Europe, both in its attitudes to social norms but also economics. Reaching as far back as, if not further than, the days of the Dutch East India Company — one of the pioneers of globalised trade — all the way through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which saw the city become a safe haven for many of Europe’s repressed communities before it doubled down on that reputation in the wake of horrendous oppression in World War Two, Amsterdam prides itself on the free flow of people and their money.

The historic headquarters of the Dutch East India Company. Image: Failed Architecture

Therefore, what this current situation represents for Amsterdam is a complex identity crisis: its historic liberalism has been founded upon letting people come and go, doing as they please. Now, however, in order to protect the freedom and safety of its citizens in the longer term, it is having to turn its back on some of these core values and risk altering a national identity that has not only made it a proud nation but also a tourist hotspot for so many years.

Amsterdam may be one of the first cities facing an identity crisis such as this but it will no doubt be the last, While we should admire the Dutch for facing these decisions head-on, we must also prepare for similar debates to rage around the world as the ecological crisis continues to change the way we travel. As the city sets sail towards a cruise-free future, it sends a message to the world that preserving its heritage and environment is a course worth charting, even if it means adjusting its liberal sails along the way.