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.

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A nation that doesn’t officially exist: on Somaliland’s campaign to build a national library in Hargeisa

The Somaliland National Library, Hargeisa. Image: Ahmed Elmi.

For seven years now, there’s been a fundraising campaign underway to build a new national library in a nation that doesn’t officially exist. 

Since 2010, the Somali diaspora have been sending money, to pay for construction of the new building in the capital, Hargeisa. In a video promoting the project, the British journalist Rageeh Omar, who was born in Mogadishu to a Hargeisa family, said it would be... 

“...one of the most important institutions and reference points for all Somalilanders. I hope it sets a benchmark in terms of when a country decides to do something for itself, for the greater good, for learning and for progress – that anything can be achieved.”

Now the first storey of the Somaliland National Library is largely complete. The next step is to fill it with books. The diaspora has been sending those, too.

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Some background is necessary here to explain the “country that doesn’t exist” part. During the Scramble for Africa of the 1880s, at the height of European imperialism, several different empires established protectorates in the Somali territories on the Horn of Africa. In 1883, the French took the port of Djibouti; the following year, the British grabbed the north coast, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aden. Five years after that, the Italians took the east coast, which faces the Indian Ocean.

And, excepting some uproar during World War II, so things remained for the next 70 years or so.

The Somali territories in 1890. Image: Ingoman/Wikimedia Commons.

When the winds of change arrived in 1960, the British and Italian portions agreed to unite as the Somali Republic: a hair-pin shaped territory, hugging the coast and surrounding Ethiopia on two sides. But British Somaliland gained its independence first: for just five days, at the end of June 1960, it was effectively an independent country. This will become important later.

(In case you are wondering what happened to the French bit, it voted to remain with France in a distinctly dodgy referendum. It later became independent as Djibouti in 1977.)

The new country, informally known as Somalia, had a difficult history: nine years of democracy ended in a coup, and were followed by the 22 year military dictatorship under the presidency of General Siad Barre. In 1991, under pressure from rebel groups including the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Barre fled, and his government finally collapsed. So, in effect, did the country.

For one thing, it split in two, along the old colonial boundaries: the local authorities in the British portion, backed by the SNM, made a unilateral declaration of independence. In the formerly Italian south, though, things collapsed in a rather more literal sense: the territory centred on Mogadishu was devastated by the Somali civil war, which has killed around 500,000, displaced more than twice that, and is still officially going on.

Somalia (blue) and Somaliland (yellow) in 2016. Image: Nicolay Sidorov/Wikimedia Commons.

The north, meanwhile, got off relatively lightly: today it’s the democratic and moderately prosperous Republic of Somaliland. It claims to be the successor to the independent state of Somaliland, which existed for those five days in June 1960.

This hasn’t persuaded anybody, though, and today it’s the only de facto sovereign state that has never been recognised by a single UN member. Reading about it, one gets the distinct sense that this is because it’s basically doing okay, so its lack of diplomatic recognition has never risen up anyone’s priority list.

Neither has its library.

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Rageeh Omar described the site of the new library in his fundraising video. It occupies 6,000m2 in the middle of Hargeisa, two minutes from the city’s main hospital, 10 from the presidential palace. In one sequence he stands on the half-completed building’s roof and points out the neighbours: the city’s main high street, with the country’s largest shopping mall; the Ministry of Telecoms that lies right next door.

This spiel, in a video produced by the project’s promoters, suggests something about the new library: that part of its job is to be another in this list of landmarks, more evidence that Hargeisa, a city of 1.5m, should be recognised as the proper capital of a real country.

But it isn’t just that: the description of the library’s function, in the government’s Strategic Plan 2013-2023, makes clear it’s also meant to be a real educational facility. NGOS, the report notes, have focused their resources on primary schools first, secondary schools second and other educational facilities not at all. (This makes sense, given that they want most bang for their buck.)

And so, the new building will provide “the normal functions of public library, but also... additional services that are intentionally aimed at solving the unique education problems of a post conflict society”. It’ll provide books for a network of library trucks, providing “book services” to the regions outside Hargeisa, and a “book dispersal and exchange system”, to provide books for schools and other educational facilities. There’ll even be a “Camel Library Caravan that will specifically aim at accessing the nomadic pastoralists in remote areas”.

All this, it’s hoped, will raise literacy levels, in English as well as the local languages of Arabic and Somali, and so boost the economy too.

As described. Image courtesy of Nimko Ali.

Ahmed Elmi, the London-based Somali who’s founder and director of the library campaign, says that the Somaliland government has invested $192,000 in the library. A further $97,000 came from individual and business donors in both Hargeisa and in the disaspora. “We had higher ambitions,” Elmi tells me, “but we had to humble our approach, since the last three years the country has been suffering from a large drought.”

Now the scheme is moving to its second phase: books, computers and printers, plus landscaping the gardens. This will cost another $175,000. “We are also open to donations of books, furniture and technology,” Emli says. “Or even someone with technical expertise who can help up set-up the librarian system instead of a contemporary donation of a cash sum.” The Czech government, in fact, has helped with the latter: it’s not offered financial support, but has offered to spend four weeks training two librarians.  

Inside the library.

On internet forums frequented by the Somali diaspora, a number of people have left comments about the best way to do this. One said he’d “donated all my old science and maths schoolbooks last year”. And then there’s this:

“At least 16 thousand landers get back to home every year, if everyone bring one book our children will have plenty of books to read. But we should make sure to not bring useless books such celebrity biography books or romantic novels. the kids should have plenty of science,maths and vocational books.”

Which is good advice for all of us, really.


Perhaps the pithiest description of the project comes from its Facebook page: “Africa always suffers food shortage, diseases, civil wars, corruption etc. – but the Somaliland people need a modern library to build a better place for the generations to come.”

The building doesn’t look like much: a squat concrete block, one storey-high. But there’s something about the idea of a country coming together like this to build something that’s rather moving. Books are better than sovereignty anyway.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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