Early signs suggest that the November 13th terror attacks in the northern Saint-Denis suburb of Paris, which resulted in the deaths of 137 people and the injury of another 368, have resulted in a welcome increase in the number of tourists now choosing to visit Amsterdam.
Within the space of just a few hours, the actions of 5 French Muslims and 2 Iraqi refugees had a more positive impact on Dutch tourism than 30 years of government marketing.
Industry insiders, speaking off the record, have expressed their tremendous relief after their worries when the government slashed the tourism marketing budget by 50%.
On condition of anonymity, one top executive in a major Dutch hotel group spoke to us about the sense of relief within the industry.
“There’s no doubt about it, we caught a lucky break” he explained, “At first we thought it would ruin our Christmas season and that we would have to start discounting rooms, something we never like to do. In previous years, a major attack like this would have frightened off visitors, particularly Americans, from visiting Europe at all.”
“Fortunately, with the amount of beheading, bombing and general horror happening in the world, people seem to have become desensitized. What actually seems to have happened, this time, is that visitors are simply changing their plans and choosing Amsterdam instead of Paris and other cities with high Muslim populations, such as London.”
“Despite all our worries before the attacks, we might actually be looking at our best year ever in 2016”.
But doesn’t Amsterdam have its own large population of Muslims, in particular of North African descent, similar to the French and Belgian attackers?
“Yes, that is true but, fortunately, unlike Paris, London and, now, Brussels, that has not yet become part of Amsterdam’s identity in the minds of international travelers. They are still thinking in terms of windmills, tulips and coffee shops, they don’t realize how many Muslims we have until they land at Schiphol Airport and, by then, it’s too late to change their vacation plans”.
But, surely, people must realize that, as security ramps up in Paris, it would be natural for Muslims to switch their attention to Amsterdam? After all, Molenbeek, the almost entirely Moroccan suburb of Brussels in which five of the attackers lived, is only a 2 hour and 20 minutes train ride from Amsterdam, only 20 minutes more than the time it takes to get to Paris.
“It is true that Amsterdam is a possible target but we feel there are various practical reasons why carrying out an operation here would be far more difficult than Paris. In Paris, the Muslim community have long felt alienated and that made it far easier for the attackers to remain undetected by the authorities.
“In fact, the suburb in which the attack were carried out, Saint Denis, is heavily North African. We cannot claim that the North African community in Amsterdam is any better integrated but we do pay far higher benefits. The sort of problems we have here, such as rapes and grabbing journalists from their bicycles and stabbing them to death, those are too low-level to make the international headlines and get into the heads of potential visitors”
But you think a major attack is possible?
“Oh, sure, probably inevitable at some point, but until then we can continue to enjoy a healthy slice of the tourist business that would have gone to Paris. In the meantime, in preparation for our own attack, we are paying close attention to how New York resuscitated their tourist industry in the difficult years after the 9/11 attacks and, eventually, managed to turn it into a tourist attraction in its own right. We have plans to do something similar after the Amsterdam attack”.
You say “the Amsterdam attack” as if it is already a thing – is that something you are expecting imminently?
“Oh, no, not for a few years anyway. We estimate that the next big, coordinated attack is far more likely to be in Germany, Sweden or Denmark. They have taken far more migrants in during the current crisis. And it is not as if the Netherlands has been dumb enough to make itself a target by getting involved in the whole Syria mess.”
No, we are actually bombing Syria now, we just started.
How long do you believe the beneficial effects of the Paris Attacks will continue?
“We are pretty sure this will be a long-lasting effect. You have to remember, the November outrage was not the only Paris attack in recent years, it was just the biggest, the one that knocked their reputation as a safe tourist destination right to the ground.”
“Any city would find it hard to pick themselves back up from that but, in the case of Paris, we can expect the steady flow of smaller attacks to keep that memory alive, to prevent any attempts to salvage what was once one of the cities most important industries”.
“At the risk of sounding too confident, we believe there is even a chance that Amsterdam might be able to overtake Paris as the number one tourist destination in Europe, something we never dreamt possible before. The whole game has changed.”
As usual, the only industry insider willing to go on the record was Robert Monroe of the city’s first online vacation rentals company, AmsterdamEscape. Unfortunately, we were unable to decipher his mumbled responses to our questions about the effect on the Amsterdam vacation rentals, but he sounded pretty positive.