Amsterdam’s council has helpfully explained that it only wants rich tourists in future

Luckily rich people never take cocaine. Image: Getty.

Amsterdam has a new resolution for 2017: care less. Between Christmas and the New Year – when everyone was still scrambling to work out which way was up and who shoved Uncle Richard’s homemade mince pies behind the radiator – the city council announced that it was upping the city’s tourist tax. This will reduce the number of cheap hostels in the city centre, while having little impact on the more expensive hotels.

Then, channelling the spirit of bah-humbug and DGAF, the council explained that they were doing this in an attempt to get rid of the budget tourists. And the stag parties. And pretty much anyone whose travel budget doesn’t extend to more than €50 a night. It’s a bold move: attack to defend, accuse yourself of elitism before committed carpers like myself have even logged onto Twitter.

Amsterdam alderman Udo Kock explained to Dutch newspaper Parool that 28 per cent of tourists visiting the city book into budget hotels – and “that has to be reduced”. The city’s plan to reduce the number of budget bookings involves slashing tourist tax breaks and changing the way tourist tax is calculated.

Right now tourists pay 5 per cent of the cost of their room when they check out – a system that the under-paid and much beleaguered hotel concierges just lurve explaining to hungover guests. In the future a split fee might be introduced; that’d mean the guest paid a fixed amount per night, plus a percentage of the hotel bill.

Kock and co claim that scrapping tax deductibles like agency fees while increasing the tourist tax will raise an extra €4m for the city in 2017. This extra money will presumably be spent washing the pleb-ooze off park benches and training a flock of iPhone carrying bluebirds to escort all the “quality” tourists to their “quality” hotels.

It gets better: in 2018, the increased tourist tax will bring in €9m, and encourage tourists to spread out across the city. This is a kind of divide and conquer style, where every borough gets a Minion-themed stag party, rather than letting the city centre hoard them all in some kind of weird, central, easily accessible, tourist district.

Anti-tourist rumblings first made headlines back in 2014, when high profile Amsterdam residents began complaining about the volume of visitors invading the city. Rijksmuseum chief Wim Pijbes claimed that tourists were causing the city to become “full”, “dirty” and “sleazy”, a description that travel companies are probably using verbatim for promotional purposes.

Following Pijbes’ complaints a number of Dutch politicians also expressed concerns over tourist numbers. A campaign was launched to encourage people to visit different parts of the city; a group of residents petitioned the mayor to crack down on disruptive tourists; the city put a stop to new hotel development; and a scheme was launched to calm tourists down via the universally soothing practise of sporadically flashing lights.


This latest attempt to dissuade low-income tourists from polluting visiting Amsterdam is the result of a familiar, yet grotesquely flawed, belief that wealthy tourists spend their holidays quietly, unobtrusively, spending money. Meanwhile the rank and file swim around in the city gutters – regurgitating cigarette butts into letter boxes, dousing everything with bodily fluids, and demanding to know why the local casino doesn’t take Love To Shop vouchers.

Evidence of this thinking can already be seen in ongoing attempts to gentrify the Amsterdam Red Light District. Despite being one of the city’s most commercially viable and popular areas, the Red Light District has remained remarkably accessible to all kinds of businesses. Independent brothels operated next to chain burger bars and eco-friendly sex shops while family-held businesses are commonplace. In 2008, however, the city council announced they would “clean-up” the Red Light District and began replacing the famous brothels and coffee shops with designer boutiques.

Set aside accusations of gentrification, landgrabs, offensive stereotyping and coded language: it doesn’t make sense for a city that makes so much money from the tourism industry to start pulling up the drawbridge in pursuit of a comparatively small pay-off.

As with most outwardly baffling, apparently self-sabotaging, schemes, though some of the blame for Amsterdam city council’s latest announcement can be attributed to Brexit. Yes, Amsterdam is swimming in tourist euros but it’s also attractive to international investors. With financial companies pulling out of post-Brexit London, a plethora of corporate tax breaks, an established international community and a “progressive spirit”, forecasters are already predicting that Amsterdam could become Europe’s next financial centre.

All of this means that 2017 really is looking like a win-win scenario for Amsterdam city council’s aversion to budget tourism. If Amsterdam does become the next go-to place for tax-dodging multinational companies the lost budget tourist euros will have little impact on the city’s income. And if the city is undercut by established tax havens like Luxembourg or Geneva (concerns have been raised over Dutch salary caps) at least the council will have freed up more space for the wealthy tourists to park.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

Southern Rail is resuming full service – but how did the company's industrial relations get so bad?

A happy day last August. Image: Getty.

“I cannot simply operate outside the law, however much I might be tempted to, however much people might want me to,” a pained Chris Grayling said on TV on 13 December. As the first all-out drivers’ strike shut down the entirety of Southern’s network, the transport secretary insisted to interviewers he was powerless in this struggle between unions and a private rail operator.

But rewind to February and Grayling’s Department for Transport was putting out a very different message. “Over the next three years we’re going to be having punch-ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support,” Peter Wilkinson, the Department’s passenger services director, told a public meeting:

“We have got to break them. [Train drivers] have all borrowed money to buy cars and got credit cards. They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place. They will have to decide if they want to give a good service or get the hell out of my industry.”

Wilkinson was forced to apologise for his comments. But when Southern began to implement driver-only operation, replacing conductors with non-safety-critical “on-board supervisors”, unions weren’t convinced by claims it was all about improved customer service. “This is a national fight – we’re not going to let them pick off one group of workers at a time,” a spokesman for the rail union RMT said in April.

The strikes have been repeatedly characterised as being about who opens and closes train doors. Journalists might consider this the best way to capture the distinction between different modes of train operation – but it’s also the easiest way to dismiss and ridicule the dispute.

The reality is that with driver-only operation, all operational functions are removed from conductors. It’s then left to drivers to assess – at each station – whether it’s safe to leave the platform. Aslef, the train drivers’ union, says this requires its members to look at dozens of CCTV images in a matter of seconds. And ultimately, trains can run with just the driver.

While Southern has promised not to dismiss its current workforce, unions fear that removing the guarantee of a second member of staff will eventually lead to them being ditched altogether. Who would look after passengers if the driver became incapacitated?

In an article, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg suggested the dispute was also fuelled by rivalry between the RMT, which represents the conductors, and Aslef. Though the relationship between the two unions hasn’t always been easy, she misses the point entirely.

At a TUC fringe meeting in 2014, I watched RMT delegates accuse drivers of being happy to accept pay-rises in exchange for implementing driver-only operation. Aslef insisted this was not its approach, and the following year the union’s conference endorsed a motion calling for no extension of the method, and for guards to be restored where they had already been axed.

Surely the real theme of the Southern dispute is the unity of the workforce. Conductors are striking against de-skilling, drivers are striking against taking on additional duties, and the mandate for action among both groups is overwhelming.

It’s true, however, that a walk-out of drivers can have a much bigger impact than a conductors’ strike – given that 60 per cent of Southern services are already driver-only. And this is why Southern’s owner Govia Thameslink Railway, Britain’s worst-performing railway, has been so keen to prevent Aslef from going on strike. When Gatwick Express (also part of GTR) drivers refused to drive new 12-carriage trains without guards in April, the company secured a court injunction preventing striking over driver-only trains. It did so again in June after drivers voted to strike, with the High Court agreeing the ballot had included drivers on irrelevant routes.


When drivers balloted again in August, lawyers went over the ballot with a fine tooth-comb and forced the union to re-ballot over a technicality, fittingly, about doors. This week’s strike was only allowed because first the High Court, and then the Court of Appeal, ruled it was not an infringement of EU freedom of movement laws. When GTR launched this bid in the courts, a senior trade unionist told me it was in “wanky wonderland” if it thought it would win.

You’d think such expensive litigation would be risky for a company facing the ire of frustrated passengers. Things have got so bad some have moved house or switched to driving to work instead. But GTR, unlike most of Britain’s private railways, doesn’t operate on the normal franchise model. Rather than collecting fare revenue, the company is paid a set fee by the government – and so it has far lesser risks.

Critics say this has made Southern ideal as a test-ground for taking on the unions over driver-only operation, claiming the government wants to make it national as part of a cost-cutting drive.

But even with such a good deal on a plate, chaos has followed Southern bosses everywhere. At the Transport Select Committee in July, the firm faced heavy criticism for failing to recruit enough staff at the start of the contract. Southern has accused unions of unofficial action through high levels of staff sickness. But are these really a surprise when industrial relations are so bad and workers are threatened with the sack?

The Committee issued a withering report – but that was where its powers stopped. Transport secretary Grayling is also refusing to act, and the company is, after all, owned by a FTSE 250 firm and a French transport group. The only people with the power to do anything, it seems, are the workers. As hell-raising as their strike may be, perhaps it’s time we celebrated it.

Conrad Landin is the Morning Star's industrial correspondent. This article previously appeared on our sister site, the Staggers.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.