Tourist behaviour drives Amsterdam to move red-light district out of city centre

Published on : Thursday, February 4, 2021

Amsterdam authorities have agreed on a proposal by the city’s mayor to shutter its famous red-light district’s brothels and move sex workers out of the city center. At a Thursday meeting, the majority of Amsterdam’s city council said they were in favor of creating a new “erotic center” outside of the central district, according to local news reports.


Amsterdam’s city council has gained cross-party support — including that of Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, according to the newspaper — for the effort and says it will overhaul the historic medieval De Wallen (“The Walls”) neighborhood of the city, which has long struggled with the bad behavior of tourists. The government has put out public calls for residents to weigh in on the future of sex work in the city and has not said where it plans to have the brothels reopen.


Locals living in the red-light district during the pandemic, which has shut down tourism to the region, have the relief that an extended break from over-tourism has brought. The area has become punctuated with signs in English that warn visitors, “Don’t pee in the street,” “No alcohol in public spaces,” “Put your trash in the bin” and “Fine: 140 euros.”


“This is about a reset of Amsterdam as a visitor city,” Dennis Boutkan, a Dutch Labour Party representative, told the Guardian of the change.

“Tourists are welcome to enjoy the beauty and freedom of the city, but not at any cost.”


Amsterdam Mayor FemkeHalsema, of the country’s Green party (GroenLinks), first proposed the location change and the closing of many of the district’s sex-worker windows in 2019, noting that tourists often visited the red-light district to gawk at the sex workers from the streets rather than partake in the legal brothels. The city shut down guided tours in the red-light-district area in early 2020.


Tourism has made the area “no longer an intimate district,” Halsema had said in 2019. “If you walk through the very narrow streets, you see huge crowds of tourists standing in front of the windows photographing foreign women who are vulnerable and laughing at them.” Halsema has said she does not wish to outlaw sex work altogether but wants to protect the sex workers who make up Amsterdam’s brothels.


Amsterdam, which is under lockdown until Feb. 9 because of the pandemic, advises travellers not to visit the Netherlands “unless it is strictly necessary.” Americans remain banned from entering the European Union because of the pandemic.


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