Amsterdam mayor urges extreme caution over return of tourism to the city

It might have lost 90% of its hotel bookings but Amsterdam shouldn’t rush to welcome back international tourists, according to its mayor. Femke Halsema has sparked anger in the hotel industry by warning the city should be “extremely cautious” about restarting tourism, saying there is not enough space for its 800,000 inhabitants, plus the normal nine million overnight visitors, and for social distancing to be respected.

“I hear you talking about international tourism, and I know that there are 55,000 hotel beds waiting for guests, too,” she told a digital council meeting on Tuesday. “But in the coming time we need to be extremely cautious about stimulating regional, national and international traffic. If we do this excessively, we run the risk that Amsterdam becomes the fireplace for a second wave [of infection].

The Dutch have had a relatively-mild “intelligent lockdown” since 15 March, closing education, hospitality and the museum sector, introducing a 1.5m distance rule and banning meetings of more than three adults. Hotels could stay open, but leisure travel was discouraged. Following EU advice, non-essential travel into the Netherlands is banned until 15 June, but the country began a phased reopening on 11 May, when the death rate levelled and primary schools restarted part time.

Although restaurants, cafes and bars can reopen from 1 June, with limits on numbers, regional authorities can interpret national legislation. But Halsema warned that, unlike Rotterdam, Amsterdam has a lot of canals and a large population. “We have a surprising shortage of public space, so I urge caution,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the mayor confirmed to the Guardian that although Halsema believes tourists are part of an international city, she is in discussions with business about how this takes form. “In a heavily-populated city with a lot of visitors, it is even harder to keep a 1.5m distance,” she said. “The worst thing that can happen to Amsterdam is to have another lockdown because the number of infections is increasing.”

However, hoteliers such as Erik-Jan Ginjaar, general manager of Postillion Hotels, which has a 252-bed conference hotel in Amsterdam due to reopen shortly, said the words were “very dangerous”.

“If tourists have to choose between Amsterdam and Berlin – which is sending out messages that it is open, you can visit museums and drink a nice glass of beer again – the tourists will choose Berlin,” Ginjaar said. “As long as the mayor is sending out these messages, it will be very problematic for Amsterdam to gain tourists again.”

He said people booking conferences now for 2022 or 2023 should not discount the city. “We need to take care of the health of everybody who is visiting us and living in Amsterdam,” he said. “But it is possible, and safe, so let’s make sure all those jobs in hotels, restaurants, shops and taxis are protected by reopening the city slowly, carefully, but not at another speed than the rest of the Netherlands.”

Meanwhile, other tourism experts, including Geerte Udo, director of amsterdam&partners, have said the city only wants the “right” tourists in future, suggesting that it might have to look hard at what places, such as the red-light district, currently offer. Investigations are ongoing into dissuading cannabis tourism and changing the prostitution windows.

Jos Vranken, managing director of NBTC Holland Marketing, is first encouraging local tourism. “We have a plan to start with the Dutch market, then flow out through Germany and Belgium, our neighbours, and the rest of the world, focusing on hidden pearls and unexplored destinations rather than hotspots,” he said.

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