No more bike rental shops, no more ticket agencies, no more fancy cheese—and absolutely no more Nutella. That’s the upshot of new rules approved in Amsterdam last week intended to halt the tourist takeover of its city center. Concerned that the urban core is losing its livability for locals, the city will ban new tourist-oriented businesses on every street within the city’s Singel Canal and on all main streets reaching out to the edge of its Canal Belt.
They will also restrict (without entirely banning) new openings of take-away food stores that specialize in fare bought mainly by visitors, such as ice cream parlors or candy stores, with particular attention to so-called “Nutella shops”—places that sell waffles and pancakes smeared with the nutty spread, whose presence has grown exponentially in central Amsterdam in recent years.
It’s hardly uncommon for cities to adopt planning guidelines for new businesses, but for a city that makes a major chunk of its living from visitors, the move still seems striking. So why is the city going so hard against bike rentals and take out?
The obvious answer is that it isn’t, really. While the city will look very closely at what it approves in the future, central Amsterdam is in fact packed with places to rent a two-wheeler or buy a cone, and doesn’t need more. That, in fact, is the point. So many businesses in the Dutch capital’s heart are now catering to people who don’t live there that the place risks turning into a theme park. This is a potential problem for any city popular with visitors. What makes Amsterdam perhaps more vulnerable than other cities is that, despite its international fame, it isn’t very big.
Housing only 821,000 people within its limits, Amsterdam’s photogenic core is quite small and can be walked from end to end within 30 minutes (less if you’re a fast walker). Cities as big as London or Paris may have to battle an encroaching tourist monoculture in some places, but they still have space to accommodate both tourists and locals within their busiest districts. With 17 million annual visitors (as of 2015) cramming into a fairly compact area, Amsterdam doesn’t have that luxury.
That’s why it has been steadily introducing ever tighter controls on tourist industry excesses over the past few years. The city has already banned new currency exchange businesses, souvenir shops and massage parlors within Amsterdam’s innermost region. Indeed, the recent growth of the bike hire shops and ice cream vendors was partly a market response to restrictions on other businesses. Otherwise, Amsterdam has also banned beer bikes and rogue bike shares and fought to reduce the number of Airbnb apartments by limiting their maximum rental periods to 60 days a year.
These moves seem to have had some effect already. Between January and July, the number of Airbnb listings in the city dropped from 15,075 to 13,689, an overall reduction of 9 percent brought about by careful monitoring and fines for rule-breakers. These moves might put a squeeze on a few new businesses, but ultimately they may serve to keep tourist numbers stable in the long-run, by protecting some of the authenticity which attracts visitors to the city in the first place. It certainly seems unlikely that tourists will be deterred from visiting just because they can’t buy clog-shaped keychains on every corner.