For many years the city of Amsterdam
has been an allurement for a wide range of cultural visitors (both foreign and
domestic) who are aiming for visiting its cultural attributes visible within multiple
landmarks, highly recognized museums, distinctive buildings and architecture,
but also to enjoy the cities’ culture, vibrant districts as well as nightlife.
Tourism, in particular cultural tourism, is the economic engine of Amsterdam.
In comparison with 2010, expenditures of visitors rose from 12 billion to 21
billion euros in 2016 (van Zoelen, 2017), the number of visitors is annually increasing
with approximately 5% and is expected to continue growing within the coming

For cities, developing
cultural tourism is seen as a means for enhancing local economies, employment
creation, development or improvement of infrastructure, increase in
expenditures as well as the development of new facilities accessible to both
visitors as well as local inhabitants, amongst others. However, increasing
tourism numbers in urban destinations might instigate several negative effects
such as traffic jams, increasing costs of living, speculation among properties,
commercialisation of urban areas, loss of place identity among locals as well
as contamination (Tokarchuk et al., 2017). Moreover, effects of tourism on
inhabitants have been underexposed for years and have a substantial impact on
the quality of life in a positive or negative way. Consequently, this essay
will be dealing with the following research question: In what way is the
constantly growing number of visitors to Amsterdam being experienced by
inhabitants living in the city-centre?

In the first place, the
essay starts with a theoretical framework that shortly outlines cultural
tourism in urban contexts. Subsequently, the focus will be on the effects of
tourism on quality of life of inhabitants in European cities as well as the
importance of cultural tourism to Amsterdam. Thereafter, the methodology will
be shortly explained, followed by the empirical results based on twelve
interviews with inhabitants of Amsterdam performed in 2015 in the analysis
section. The essay will be concluded by stating the most important outcomes of
the research in the conclusion.

2.         Theoretical framework

2.1. Cultural tourism in urban contexts

Before focusing on cultural tourism
in urban contexts, culture needs to be briefly defined. According to Mousavi et
al. (2016) culture can be seen in a twofold way: as a process, which entails
the way of life as well as codes of conduct embedded in different societal
communities that create meaning. Culture viewed from a product perspective might
be considered as individual or group activities to which specific meanings are
enclosed. In relation to tourism, these definitions are slightly similar and
interwoven. However, tourism together with contributing other social processes
comprises both perspectives: culture as a process might be transformed into
cultural products.

Cultural tourism focuses
on a destinations’ cultural assets such as practices, rituals, traditions,
heritage, history, the way of life, thoughts and lifestyles that might be
created into cultural products (Du Cros & McKercher, 2015). Within cultural
tourism, tourists are generally aiming for obtaining educative, creative and
entertaining experiences (Smith, 2016). In addition, cultural products consist
of immovable objects as well as tangible, intangible and creative activities
(Richards, 2011) such as museums, monuments, archaeological sites, cathedrals,
theatres, galleries, festivals, traditions, gastronomy, amongst others (Smith,
2016). Moreover, cultural tourism can be considered as a collection of
encounters between different cultures that could elicit awareness and
alterations among both of them, the host-guest relation.

McKercher & Du Cros
(2002) created a typology of cultural tourists in which motivations for visiting
cultural attributes in destinations range from high to low and where cultural
experiences vary from deep to shallow. Types of cultural tourists are the
purposeful cultural tourist, sightseeing cultural tourist, serendipitous
cultural tourist, casual tourist and the incidental cultural tourist. On the
other hand, Caldeira & Kastenholz (2017) distinguish between motivations,
first-time visitors and repeat visits, expressing that the latter mainly
possesses motivations such as relaxation and familiarity, while first-time
visitors have novelty and new cultural experiences as their primary
motivations. In addition, first-time visitors might focus on a destinations’
most important attractions, while repeat visitors tend to focus more on less
visited attractions. Patterns of movement, therefor, differ among both groups.

Smith (2016) furthermore
argues that cultural tourism is gradually growing and constantly subject to
change and development. As a result, cultural tourism in its contemporary form
might be increasingly difficult to define (Noonan & Rizzo, 2017) as a wide
range of activities has components of culture involved. Cultural tourists are
constantly seeking for new, authentic and genuine experiences in both urban and
rural areas. Nevertheless, primary motivations of cultural tourists not only
focus on gathering cultural experiences. Relaxation, recreation, and fun are
also important motives for holidaymakers (Smith, 2016). However, growing
cultural tourism might have considerable effects on quality of life of
inhabitants living in cultural tourism destinations, both positively as well as
negatively (Wise, et al., 2017).

2.2. Effects of cultural
tourism on quality of life of local inhabitants in European cities

Economic and social development as a
result of tourism may be achieved by striving for a precise and constructive
resource management (Catudan, 2016). However, too good management and overexploitation
of (cultural) resources may eventually result in the opposite, in a destination
losing its equilibrium between on the one hand liveability for locals and, on
the other hand, growing tourism numbers (Pinkster & Boterman, 2017). What
has started for numerous cities as a means for revitalizing city-centres,
promoting cultural treasures to outsiders, stimulating local economies,
improvement of local service levels, development of infrastructure and public
transportation networks (Afthanorhan et al., 2017), nowadays, several European
cities that are famous for their cultural features are increasingly facing the
disadvantages of tourism as it is negatively impacting its inhabitants. As a
result, many parties currently focus on studying the negative socio-cultural impacts
of tourism on local societies in urban contexts, rather than the positive effects
(Gerritsma & Vork, 2017).

Zamani-Farahani &
Musa (2012) mention negative impacts such as the migration of communities to
other neighbourhoods that differ from previous living conditions, increasing
numbers of criminality and prostitution that might come along with tourism
development in urban environments. From a government perspective, in cities
such as Barcelona, Berlin, Milan, Venice and Dubrovnik, the issue of an
escalating tourism sector is so urgent that it is placed as one of the most
important items on political agendas. Especially in the smaller size cities
mentioned in table 1 such as, Barcelona Milan and Prague, but also in larger
cities like Rome, protests by inhabitants against tourism are expanding. Noise
nuisance, contamination, increasing prices for living as well as
commercialisation of neighbourhoods (Kottasová, 2017) are a few of the
mentioned statements of inhabitants expressing their resistance towards
excessive tourism numbers and their associated effects. Some measures have been
taken in cities in order to balance tourism numbers and quality of life of
locals. Those are measures such as preventing public drinking, restrictions to
food trucks and selfie sticks (Coldwell, 2017) installing tourist police,
controlling the number of cruise ships, limiting the number of hotel rooms,
decreasing the number of permits for takeaway shops, instruction campaigns and
tourist tax (Kottasová, 2017). These should give rise to tourists being
encouraged to show appropriate behaviour and assure sustainable living
conditions for locals.

2.3. Amsterdam as a
(cultural) tourism destination

As a result of economic development,
the increasing promotion and importance of urban tourism, the growing
possibilities for cheap (seasonal) traveling (Gerritsma & Vork, 2017) as
well as the presence of new accommodation possibilities such as Airbnb
(Kottasová, 2017), tourism is growing in Amsterdam. In 2000, the city received approximately
eight million overnight stays (Gemeente Amsterdam, Bureau Onderzoek, Informatie
& Statistiek, 2002). Presently, this number is already achieved after half
a year.

Amsterdam is yearly
announced as one of the most visited cultural tourism destinations in Europe.
Although the city is being visited by a wide variety of tourists with different
motivations and expectations, the majority of them are interested in visiting
the cities’ museums and art exhibitions (NBTC, 2016; SP, 2017). Amsterdam was
in place 28 in the top-100 worldwide city destinations in 2017, ranked with
6,570.400 tourist arrivals (Geerts et al., 2017). Larger European cities such
as London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Prague, Barcelona and Milan were among the
top-25 most visited destinations worldwide. As can be seen in table 1, among
the European cities, Amsterdam is in place eight when it comes to most visited
destinations, leaving popular cities such as Vienna and Berlin behind.
Nevertheless, Amsterdam is a relatively small city in terms of size. The
impacts of cultural tourism might, therefore, have a substantial impact on
local inhabitants.



arrivals per year


Size of city
in km2




8,8 million

1.572 km2




2,2 million

105,4 km2




2,9 million

1.285 km2




14,8 million

1.539 km2




1,3 million

496 km2




1,6 million

101,9 km2




1,3 million

181,8 km2









1,8 million

414,6 km2




3,5 million

891,8 km2

Table 1. Most visited European
cities, their population, and size (Source: adapted from Geerts, et al., 2017)

Local authorities and
organisations in Amsterdam increasingly see the necessity to balance tourism
and quality of life of inhabitants as locals are increasingly starting to
complain or stand up against the continuous tourism development in Amsterdam
(Pijbes, 2014; Couzy, 2017), as it is affecting their daily lives. Although
Amsterdam is taking several measures in order to find a balance between tourism
and quality of life of locals such as, spreading tourism in- and outside
Amsterdam with mentioning other Dutch destinations in the vicinity of the city
for example, Amsterdam Beach (Zandvoort), Flowers of Amsterdam (Keukenhof,
Lisse) and Castles and Gardens of Amsterdam (Muiderslot, Muiden) (AT5, 2016),
the question remains in what way tourism is being experienced by inhabitants
living in the city-centre of Amsterdam.


3.         Methodology

On the basis of the visitor pressure
concept developed by Postma (2013), presented in figure 1, semi-structured
interviews with 26 respondents have been carried out in 2015 as part of an
unpublished pilot research project performed by the author in favour of the
European Tourism Futures Institute (ETFI). The data of the interviews might
still be relevant to date as the research project is still continuing (in other
European cities as well), and provides insight in how inhabitants perceive
tourism (development) in Amsterdam.

The visitor pressure concept is based on critical incidents that have a significant
impact on inhabitants and can be experienced in a positive or negative way
(Anton, 1996). To assess respondents’ responses to critical incidents,
measurement tools have been developed defining the level of emotional and
behavioural responses. These are presented and explained in figure 1.

 Figure 1. Emotional and behavioural responses
to critical encounters in tourism (Source: Postma, 2013)

Twelve of the 26
interviews that have been performed throughout the pilot project in 2015 have
again been analyzed and used for this essay. However, since the data has been
gathered almost three years ago, empirical results could slightly deviate from
results that would otherwise have been collected recently. Meanings, statements
and opinions of interviewees towards tourism in Amsterdam that have been brought
forward in 2015 could have been experienced differently in 2018. Though, the
results in this essay give insight in how respondents experienced tourism in Amsterdam
in 2015.

In order to receive a diversity in information, the
author decided on making use of qualitative research by applying the
semi-structured interview technique. This technique allowed the interviewee
to share a substantial amount of information since it is a rather open method
to obtain topic-related information. Moreover, it leaves room for the
respondent to add his or her own comments (Veal, 2014). Besides that, interviews
were in the case of this research topic more suitable than a quantitative
approach since they provide a more detailed and in-depth insight in experiences,
emotions, behaviours as well as feelings of respondents (Rahman, 2017) in
relation to tourism in Amsterdam, which is the main goal of this research. At the time respondents shared their experiences, the author generally
asked follow-up questions such as ‘where did it occur?’ or ‘how did
you feel afterwards?’ in order to stimulate respondents to elaborate their
experiences to a greater extent. Interviews have been transcribed and open
coding has been used to analyse the gathered data.

4.         Analysis

At the moment the interviews were
held, most interviewed respondents resided in the city-centre for 1-60 years
and were aged between 21-69 years. Some of them were living in or nearby the
tourism core area, but within the city-centre, while others formerly lived in
this area and moved to places outside (but in the proximity) of Amsterdam.
Moreover, some of the interviewees had an interest in tourism (e.g. income
dependence on tourism) and expressed themselves more positive than negative
about tourism in Amsterdam. In addition, respondents living in the tourism core
area were generally more sceptical or (slightly) negative towards tourism in
comparison with respondents who were living nearby or outside the area, although
they argued that tourism also brought benefits such as the possibility to show
the beauty and liveliness of the city to outsiders, internationalization as
well as the importance of tourism in terms of economic aspects.

“I find ourselves (inhabitants of Amsterdam) ambassadors of the city and
I will always be as friendly as possible and I try ……… to provide tourists with
information about our city”

“I constantly speak French, Italian, English, German because it is
needed. Tourists ask you to point the way, and then I add a lot of things to
it. If they ask for the Anne Frank house, I add a brief story to it (pointing
the way)”

“Obviously, it (tourism) brings in a lot of money for many businesses,
shops, restaurants, hotels, so, in this regard only positive”

“People who are living in Amsterdam should realize that tourists bring
in money and the city definitely benefits from it (tourism). We as a city
become richer”

By asking interviewees’
general perceptions of tourism to Amsterdam, it became clear that especially
specific areas situated on the edge of, as well as within the inner part of,
the city-centre are touristic and overcrowded, particularly within the summer
period. Moreover, since Amsterdam is a small city in comparison with other
European city destinations, its most important landmarks are predominantly
located on short distance from each other, which makes that tourist activity is
mainly centred among those locations and ensures specific crowded and congested
places, as have been pointed out by the following quotes:

 “It (tourism) more or less starts
in the Haarlemmerstraat, Dijk and via the Prinsengracht just along the edge of
the Jordaan, continues up to the Negen Straatjes and around the Leidsestraat.
This part is really touristic and crowded”.

“It (the city-centre) looks like an amusement park, so at this moment
too much (tourism)”

Increasing tourism has
led to certain parts within the city-centre being experienced as gentrified.
Buildings lost their original functions, residents moved to other parts or
outside the city and loss of social cohesion in neighbourhood contexts appeared.
Whereas gentrification seen from a spatial point of view resembles a positive
upgrade of a certain neighbourhood on several aspects (Gainza, 2017), for inhabitants
of Amsterdam the meaning has a negative connotation.

“Three or four years ago it was really cosy in our neighbourhood. Our
anchorage is already gone for a long time, in the meantime the residents also
left”. The social feeling within the neighbourhood is gone and I fear this will
only get worse”.

“What I find annoying is that a lot of authentic shops close their doors
and are being replaced by catering facilities, coffee shops or souvenir shops.
So…., in other words, I find that the offering of shops is increasingly
becoming attenuated”

A growing tourism
industry, the concentration of tourists in certain tourist areas as well as
cultural differences between locals and tourists furthermore regularly
instigated dangerous situations due to tourists not being aware of traffic
rules. This resulted in increased irritation levels among both interviewees and
tourists, but also to the fact that locals changed behaviours by avoiding
certain overcrowded areas. In addition, Interviewees argued that some areas were
tourist domains. In those areas, locals were generally absent and increasingly
preferred to visit other places that were located outside the city-centre, and
that had not yet been discovered by tourists.

 “In traffic, I experienced
several dangerous situations while I was cycling through the city-centre. I
have been running over a few times by large groups who were cycling over the
bridges. They did not know how to use brakes and were not aware of the fact
that people coming from the right side of the road normally have right of way.

“What I see is that inhabitants and tourists are avoiding each other.
Many inhabitants of Amsterdam do not visit the city-centre anymore when they
want to go out. Besides, they go to the western part of the city, to Hallen, the
eastern part, the Indian neighbourhood or to Beukenplein. In this way, new
places arise that are really lively”.

“Quite funny, because you have, let’s say, the touristic entertainment
centre and the normal entertainment centre for inhabitants of Amsterdam, for
people who are living in Amsterdam”

Lastly, another
mentioned aspect as a result of increasing tourism in Amsterdam is the advent
of ‘cheap tourism’ and the corresponding effects of this type of tourism such
as, disrespectful tourists towards the city and their inhabitants, showing
inappropriate behaviour reflected in the effects of too much drinking, peeing,
noise nuisance and increasing waste on the streets. These effects affect the
liveability of certain areas as well as locals’ feelings about what quality of
life meant for them.

tourists would like to visit Amsterdam in order to enjoy the beauty of the
city, that would be a stimulus for keeping the city lively and well-maintained.
But there is also a kind of tourism that is not interested in these aspects:
tourism that has increased as a result of the advent of budget airlines”.

“I know
people who are living in the old part of the city-centre. What they tell me is
that, from the moment that Ryanair installed their base at Schiphol, it is very
appealing to travel from the United Kingdom to Amsterdam in order to spend the
weekend. People are coming on Saturday to Amsterdam, together with a few mates,
visit the Wallen, smoke grass, drink heavily and save money by not booking a
hotel. On Sunday they are flying back home again”


Cultural tourism in cities is often
seen as a tool to showcase a destinations’ unique cultural characteristics to a
wide audience. However, for many inhabitants the positive effects of tourism
are increasingly being overshadowed by the negative ones, especially in
European urban destinations such as Amsterdam. Tourism carrying capacity has
been reached and for some, the negative effects have a substantial impact on
daily routines.

In the years to come,
cultural tourism is expected to be growing in Amsterdam. Consequently, to retain
or improve quality of life of locals in the city-centre, the municipality of
Amsterdam could think of implementing more specific sustainable measures to balance
liveability and increasing tourism, where
locals and tourists are able to interconnect with each other, where
high-quality tourism is being promoted and where liveability of locals will be
enhanced and maintained. However, while the results gave insight in how
inhabitants living in the city-centre of Amsterdam experienced tourism in their
city in 2015, further research is needed in order to see if inhabitants still
experience tourism in the same way in 2018, or if their opinions towards
tourism have changed.


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