Amsterdam to Ban Red-Light District Tours From April and Tourists May Also Be Barred From Cannabis Cafes

Amsterdam is banning all guided tours of the city's red-light districts from April 1, including De Wallen, the city's largest red-light district. Those who don't comply could be subject to a fine of up to $8,100.

The new rules on red-light district tours aim to curb overcrowding in these areas, which are a "nuisance" to residents and sex workers, and to "create more space on the street" and "ensure a more reliable working environment for sex workers," the Municipality of Amsterdam announced.

A ban barring tourists from the city's famed cannabis cafes is also being considered. Local authorities are hoping both measures can help tackle the growing issue of "overtourism" in the city, which is said to welcome around 17.4 million overnight visitors a year, according to the latest figures from the city's tourism organization.

City officials are reportedly looking to build a separate "erotic center" or "prostitution hotel" of sorts as a designated area for prostitution, sex theaters and other related facilities to help relieve bottle-necking in the red-light districts.

This sex work complex would come with a "large glass roof for daylight or looking at the stars," while "all the rooms would open onto a plaza which has proper, yet intimate, lighting," according to city officials.

All organized tours of De Wallen were outlawed last month, but the city will introduce a ban on tours visiting all sex work windows throughout the city from April 1.

Tour guides who break the rules will be fined around $205 and the tour will be immediately disbanded following a six-week grace period. After three violations, the guide's permit will be temporarily withdrawn, while the fourth strike will entail a permanent ban from operation. The tour companies will also then face a fine between around $2,700 and $8,100.

"It is disrespectful to treat sex workers as a tourist attraction, therefore tours at De Wallen will be banned," Amsterdam's deputy mayor Victor Everhardt said in a statement.

Individual tourists are still allowed to wander through red-light districts to visit the sex work windows on their own accord and tours outside the red-light districts are permitted. But all tours and its participants within the Centrum district in the tourist-heavy city center must comply with the new stricter rules from April 1, according to Everhardt.

The new regulations include a limit of 15 participants per tour.

"A smaller group reduces the area that a group uses in the room. It increases the clarity for bystanders and traffic users, which will have a positive effect on traffic flow. It also increases the clarity for the group members themselves, which will increase their awareness of the environment. This will create a safer [traffic] situation," the municipality said in a statement outlining the new rules around red-light district tours.

Several rules were already in place, such as a ban on the use of drugs or consumption of alcohol during any tours, shouting or making other loud noises, and standing still in "pressure-sensitive places" such as shop entrances, porches of homes and catering establishments during open hours.

"Despite earlier measures, residents, entrepreneurs and sex workers are still experiencing great nuisance from guide groups," the municipality said.

The city hopes the latest measures will "strengthen the quality of life in the city center and reduce the inconvenience for residents," who have continued to "experience a lot of nuisance from groups in the center of Amsterdam," the statement said.

The perpetual popularity of the city's cannabis cafes (also known as coffee shops), where the sale of marijuana for personal consumption is allowed, has also contributed to overtourism over the years.

A new survey of around 1,161 tourists aged between 18 and 35, conducted by the city government, showed that coffee shops were a big motivator for these tourists, with around two-thirds of them visiting the city to use marijuana.

The research also showed that around a third of those surveyed would visit Amsterdam less frequently if they were banned from the cannabis cafes, while 11 percent of them said they would no longer visit at all.

Amsterdam's mayor Femke Halsema stated the city would use the survey as a basis for researching policies that would help "reduce the pulling power of cannabis on tourism" in Amsterdam.

At the moment, there are no finalized plans for banning foreign tourists from visiting cannabis cafes. "It's going to take some time to go to the next steps, and there is no real clear majority [in the city council] for solutions," added Sebastiaan Meijer, a spokesperson for the mayor.

Newsweek has contacted the Municipality of Amsterdam, I Amsterdam (the tourism organization for Amsterdam), (the national tourism office of The Netherlands) and PROUD (Dutch Union for Sexworkers) for a comment on the latest new regulations.

Amsterdam Red Light District
A luminous sign advertises a lap dancing bar in one of Amsterdam's red-light districts on April 12, 2019 in Amsterdam. Getty Images