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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Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.

Funding

The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.


Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  

Problems

A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.