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Is tourist dispersion working? An analysis of Lonely Planet maps

Discussion

For more than fifteen years, Amsterdam has been trying to convince tourists to visit areas outside the city centre. There is a concern that the inner city is approaching the limit of how many tourists it can handle.

To explore the effect of these policies, I analysed changes in the maps in Lonely Planet guides. Over the past years, sights have been added in areas outside of the inner city - mostly areas that had already been affected by gentrification. Still, the large majority of sights are still in the traditional tourist areas, in the city centre and some parts of the Zuid district.

It appears that the effect of tourist dispersion policies is modest at best - and not nearly enough to compensate for the growth of tourism. Reducing the impact of tourism may well require a different approach - for example targeting hotel capacity and low-cost flights to Schiphol Airport.

Dispersion policies

In its coalition agreement, the new city government said that the positive aspects of tourism are increasingly overshadowed by its negative effects, putting the liveability of some neighbourhoods at risk. One of the ways to deal with this is spreading tourists over the city (and the surrounding region). Amsterdam is to be primarily a place where people live and do business, and only in the second place a tourist destination.

The idea to disperse tourists is not new. In 2016, Amsterdam launched a campaign to promote areas outside the inner city. Interestingly, the campaign caused a bit of a controversy when politicians noticed the Nieuw-West district had been left out of a promotional map. Amsterdam Marketing responded that ‘in our professional opinion’, the district is currently ‘less suitable to be offered as a primary alternative to the city centre’. They argued that neighbourhoods must first be embraced by locals, which suggests that city marketing follows gentrification.

In 2009, Amsterdam planned to promote the eastern parts of the city as ‘the new (2nd) Museum Quarter’; the Northern IJ Waterfront as ‘Creative City’, the Westerpark as a variation on Berlin’s ‘Kulturbrauerei’; the Eastern Harbour Area as Docklands; de Pijp as ‘Quartier Latin’ and Oud-West as ‘Notting Hill’.

And as early as 2001, the tourism board warned that the inner city had almost reached the limit of how many tourists it can handle. «But where should they go? To IJburg for architecture; fun shopping at the Arena Boulevard in Zuidoost and visit the former GVB tram depot in Oud-West.»

A common denominator of the campaigns is that they target repeat visitors. As the tourism board explained in 2001, «we don’t want to send first-time foreign visitors to the outskirts».

Lonely Planet maps

To get an idea of the impact of these policies, I analysed changes in the sights shown on maps in Lonely Planet guides (for caveats, see Method below). If tourists turn to new parts of the city, you’d expect these areas to show up on those maps. Further, in 2009, the tourism board started seinding information about sights outside the city centre to publishers of travel guides. «Inclusion in the guides is not guaranteed, but this often happens.»

2006 is a bit of an outlier. A number of sights outside of the city centre were added, only to disappear again in the next edition (see below, Sights that were dropped). If you zoom in on specific neighbourhoods, you’ll notice more changes. For example:

  • A number of sights in Oost were added in 2012: Oosterpark (including De Schreeuw, Slavery Memorial and Spreeksteen), Dappermarkt and Frankendael;
  • In 2018, a number of sights in Noord were added, including some at the former NDSM Wharf, EYE Film Museum and Nieuwendammerdijk.

The table below shows the percentage of sights per district:

District 2000 2006 2012 2016 2018
Stadsdeel Centrum 84 74 78 78 75
Stadsdeel Zuid 10 12 11 11 10
Stadsdeel Oost 1 3 6 5 6
Stadsdeel Noord 2 1 0 0 5
Stadsdeel West 3 5 4 5 4
Stadsdeel Nieuw-West 0 1 0 0 0
Stadsdeel Zuidoost 0 1 0 0 0
Wijk 00 Amstelveen 0 3 0 0 0

There has been an increase in especially Oost and Noord, but the large majority of sights are still in Centrum and in Zuid (which includes the Museumplein).

Sights that were dropped

In each edition, new sights are added and others are dropped. The latter category includes sights that don’t exist anymore, such as the Netherlands Media Art Centre, the Vakbondsmuseum (trade union museum) and temporary locations of the Stedelijk Museum. Other sights apparently fell out of grace with the authors.

The authors of the various editions have their own preferences and interests. For example, Andrew Bender, author of the 2006 edition, appears to be a bit of a health enthousiast. He added many sports facilities and fitness centres, which explains why his edition had more sights outside the city centre. Most of these were dropped in the next edition. In 2012, Karla Zimmerman and Sarah Chandler added many hofjes (~almshouses). Again, most of them didn’t make the next edition.

Method

I used the following editions of the Lonely Planet Amsterdam guide:

2000: Rob van Driesum, Nikki Hall
2006: Andrew Bender
2012: Karla Zimmerman, Sarah Chandler
2016: Catherine Le Nevez, Karla Zimmerman
2018: Catherine Le Nevez, Abigail Blasi

I analysed sights in the legends of the maps at the end of the guides. The maps also include categories like eating, drinking, sleeping and entertainment. I focused on sights, reckoning that this category would likely present less problems when you want to geocode information from old maps. Note that the classification of especially the 2000 edition is somewhat different from later editions.

It’s possible that errors occured in geocoding or in copying data from the guides. If you spot any errors, please let me know.

Obviously, Lonely Planet maps are not a perfect measure of tourism dispersion. On the other hand, if there had been major shifts in the areas tourists visit, it seems rather unlikely they wouldn’t be reflected in the sights Lonely Planet shows on its maps.

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