A flower market without flowers

Willem writes*

Founded in 1862 along the historic Singel canal, the Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam was the world’s only floating flower market and a landmark of the city of Amsterdam. Some tourism blogs call it a must-see, but on TripAdivsor the market only receives 3.5 out of 5 stars, most recent reviews being bad. TripAdvisor user 678mvi calls the market a “terrible disappointment”, mostly selling “cheap merchandise for tourists”.

Tourists take photos of flowers at the stall of the Bloemenmarkt’s last florist (Source).

On the 16th of April 2019, Dutch newspapers reported that the last florist of the Bloemenmarkt had closed down. “The tourists have ruined my business”, he told a reporter. According to municipal policy, only 25 percent of the products sold at Bloemenmarkt flower stalls are allowed to be ‘related products’, but this policy is not enforced. In reality, most stalls focus on selling souvenirs which tourists can easily take home, such as plastic tulips, tulip bulbs, or marihuana seeds.

The Bloemenmarkt is illustrative of the effects of an unsustainable form of tourism which many popular destinations face. According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism is tourism which meets “the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future”. Both tourists and residents are attracted to the Bloemenmarkt because of its cultural value, but because the market attracts so many tourists who photograph but don’t buy fresh flowers, the unique floating flower market transforms into a bunch of floating souvenir shops. As a result of this, Amsterdam’s cultural environment is damaged, needs of tourists and residents cannot be met (the TripAdvisor reviews are testimony to this) and future opportunity to visit this cultural heritage is lost.

With regard to the negative externalities of tourism, the Bloemenmarkt is only the tip of the iceberg. In other parts of Amsterdam, tourism causes congestion and pollution, and pushes up house pricescausinggentrification and transforming the character and ‘livability’ of many neighborhoods. With the number of visitors expected increase even more rapidly in the future, the pressure on the municipality of Amsterdam to design policies to put a stop to this unsustainable form of tourism is rising. Whether any of these policies will lure the florists back to the Bloemenmarkt, however, remains to be seen.

Bottom line: Tourism to Amsterdam in its current form threatens the livability of the city and the opportunities of future generations of tourists and local reisdents to enjoy the city’s cultural heritage.

* Please help my Environmental Economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice :).

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

2 thoughts on “A flower market without flowers”

  1. I found this subject very interesting and hit close to home. In Italy we also have numerous problems related to unsustainable tourism or ‘Overturism’. However, examples are much more correlated to tourism that creates disturbance for locals and threats to ancient ruins.
    National Geographic made an article on the issue and I think that a sentence that sort of encompasses all these problems is “You can’t morally prosecute people for being tourists but I think the first sign of overtourism isn’t the crowds but when a community shrinks and closes in on itself.”
    I’m not sure if this was already on your mind to include in your case study, but I think it would be super interesting to also see how locals’ perceptions change based on the type of tourism and how they’re opinions help (or could help) to find a solution to the tourists problem. In Venice most locals reached the point that despite tourism being almost the only form of income in the city, the chaos and overwhelming presence of tourists compared to residents brought locals to reach a level of almost despise for tourists, to the point that numerous protests were made demanding for a solution. Thus, the municipality implemented a limit of non-locals allowed to enter the city centre every day in order to decrease the discontent but also to preserve the city’s ancient structure. This improved a lot the livability of Venice and, on the contrary of common believes, the net gain loss from a decreased number of tourists, was offset by the tickets sold to enter the city.

    1. Hi Rachele! Thanks for your comment. Indeed, this is a problem that is salient in many places around the world, particularly in ‘so-called’ heritage cities like Venice, Florence, Barcelona, etc. The sentiments you describe are definitely also present in Amsterdam, you can find some examples by clicking the ‘gentrification’ and ‘character and ‘livability’’ links in the blog. I think a key difference that sets apart Amsterdam, however, is that Amsterdam has a thriving economy outside of tourism, as opposed to e.g. Venice. The distinction between types of tourism is a very good suggestion that I will definitely incorporate, thank you!

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