Amsterdam Confirms Plan to Halve River Cruises

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A policy of which rumors have been spreading for more than a year has now been confirmed by Amsterdam city council, although with some tweaks. 

In the next five years, the city intends to slash the number of river cruise arrivals by half, to a maximum of 1,150 calls per year by 2028. The city council has stated that the number of river cruises that visit the Dutch capital city has nearly doubled since 2011, causing mass tourism, pollution, and congestion. 

Amsterdam Cruise Limits A Reality

Amsterdam ranks among Europe’s top destinations for both ocean-going and river cruise ships. However, the substantial increase in cruise arrivals has presented significant challenges for the city. In response, the council has decided to restrict the number of river cruise ships permitted to dock within the city limits.

In a statement, Amsterdam City Council states that between 2011 and 2023, the number of calls jumped from 1,327 to 2,125, bringing with them 500,000 cruise passengers. The council believes that the city should aim to become more livable, with limiting river cruise ships being one of the measures that will go into effect. 

Amsterdam City Council: “Amsterdam must be and remain liveable, for residents and visitors. That is why we take measures to combat over-tourism. We want to halve the number of river cruise ships in the city within 5 years to a maximum of 1,150 in 2028. Fewer river cruises means less crowds and more quality of life.”

To lower the environmental impact, Amsterdam also intends to implement additional limitations on the river cruise ships that are allowed to visit the city. This includes only allowing ships that have shore-power capabilities.

“River cruises contribute to the crowds and emissions in the city, with tourists, overnight stays, bus movements, and supply traffic. River cruises remain part of the Amsterdam visitor economy. We focus on the most sustainable ships that have a connection for green shore power,” the council continued.

Economic Impact of River Cruises

One reason that Amsterdam intends to limit the river cruise ships is because the council feels the river ships have a low economic impact. The peak season for cruise ship arrivals in Amsterdam is not during the summer but rather in April and early May. 

The surge is due to passengers eager to witness the tulips that bloom this time of year. According to the city council, these visitors often do not explore Amsterdam’s city center. Instead, they board a bus for a day trip to Keukenhof, located about 25 miles from the city.

Amsterdam River Cruising
Amsterdam River Cruising (Photo Credit: FabianIrwin / Shutterstock)

However, several local stakeholders believe the council is barking up the wrong tree. River cruise ships use Amsterdam as a homeport for cruises down the Rhine River, and those guests typically stay in the city’s 4- and 5-star hotels.

Every year, this results in about 380,000 tourists extending their stay for a few days before or after their cruise. The limit will bring this down to an estimated 217,000, and a loss of income of around 63 million euros.

Is Amsterdam Banning The Wrong Guests?

On top of everything, those sailing onboard the river cruise ships are hardly the type of guests that Amsterdam has tried to ban for several years, those that come for the coffee shops and red light district.

Luxury Hotels of Amsterdam, a partnership of 25 hotels: “These visitors, who often use our hotels for pre- and post-visits, are known as valued guests who do not cause any nuisance, but rather contribute to the city’s cultural heritage.”

“This measure is really for the stage. We don’t leave those beds empty, because other guests come back who may treat the city less respectfully.”

Cruise Ship Docked in Amsterdam
Cruise Ship Docked in Amsterdam (Photo Credit: Oleg Senkov / Shutterstock)

Amsterdam has been exploring ways to manage or outright ban cruise ships for several years. While the talk was about banning ocean cruise ships initially, the council has shifted to an easier target, possibly after talks with Cruise Industry representatives CLIA.

Even though the economic impact is significant, and the loss of employment for some 700 people, Amsterdam City Council still believes it is making the right choice.

Councilor Hester van Buren said to Het Parool: “This is about the hustle and bustle in the city and the total picture. It is also one of the hundred measures we take. And we also want tourists who do come on the river cruise to have a pleasant experience of the city.”

Limiting cruise ships, be it for the supposed over-tourism it creates or a perceived environmental impact, is a measure that Amsterdam is, perhaps, taking a little too lightly. The potential loss of income and jobs, combined with the reality that other forms of tourism are a far bigger issue, means it might not be the most logical or effective solution.

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