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How Amsterdam’s Mayor Is Trying to Hold Back a Tide of Tourism

Femke Halsema has proposed big changes for the picturesque Dutch capital, including proposals to rein in its sex industry and discourage visitors from taking a “vacation from morals.” 

Mayor Femke Halsema at the Amstel river in the city center on July 6.

Mayor Femke Halsema at the Amstel river in the city center on July 6.

Photographer: Peter Boer/Bloomberg

Like several other heavily visited European cities, Amsterdam experienced a dramatic pause in tourism during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. With the Netherlands’ borders closed and major attractions like the Rijksmuseum emptied of the usual throngs of international visitors, locals were able to reclaim the historic heart of the city.

Now, Amsterdam’s leaders are determined to permanently shift the economic balance between residents and tourists, and rethink Amsterdam’s free-wheeling image as a magnet for sex- and drug-seeking vacationers. “People who have lived here for a very long time feel estranged,” says the city’s mayor, Femke Halsema. “We do not want to become Venice or Dubrovnik, where your historical center has become a closed theme park. In the future it has to be a livable part of the city.”