Amsterdam is uniquely known for sex, drugs, and debauchery. Like the XXX that is on its flag (which has nothing to do with sex), the city has become synonymous with the Red Light District that takes up part of its city center. But is tourism in Amsterdam killing the sex industry?
On a recent stopover in Amsterdam, I noticed while strolling the De Wallen neighborhood, Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District, that so many of its iconic windows which once housed beautiful working ladies trying to entice customers on the street are now sitting empty with for-rent signs on the door. The streets are crowded with misbehaving tourists, but there’s no one behind the windows for them to disrespect. While sex shows and bars still have nightly vistitors, it looks like prostitution has largely been pushed out of the Red Light District.
It’s not hard to see why. What was once an area specifically frequented by people looking to spend an hour or two with the girls behind the glass doors, now is a stop on city tours, full of tourists gawking and taking pictures. One former brothel was even turned into a museum to show curious travelers what the local sex industry is like behind the scenes. But when it comes down to it, people aren’t actually paying for services. Men who might otherwise be in the market for a lay or a handie in the Red Light District are now in a less inviting atmosphere, full of people who might be judging them for seeking out such services. So working girls have less incentive to pay for space along the most popular canals of the Red Light District, leaving the iconic windows sitting empty.
City officials have taken notice. In an effort to curb the leering and abuse from non-paying tourists, the city mayor has begun to offer sex workers permits to work in areas outside the Red Light District. This also helps the women of the Red Light District to seek anonymity that tourism has stripped from them. Though signs are posted all over the area to prevent photos, these often go ignored. An increased police presence and on-the-spot fines for inappropriate behavior are other measures being taken to try to restore some order in the area.
Just a couple of years ago, I remember visiting the city and jokingly musing that if all other income-producing options failed, I could always move to Amsterdam and make a living in the Red Light District. But I don’t know that there’s much of a living to be made in the Amsterdam sex industry anymore. It’s become too touristy to the detriment of its original businesses.
The empty stretches of windows in the Red Light District canals and alleys are a testament to how overtourism can fundamentally change a destination.