Opinion: Has Amsterdam scapegoated the cruise industry to veil political turmoil?

Install a scapegoat and play the public; it’s a well-known concept that governments have employed for hundreds of years – the Amsterdam situation, regarding the proposed banning of cruise ships, is simply the most recent example

Global headlines oozed with sanctimonious mirth last week. There was undoubtedly an element of ivory-tower pietism when news outlets showcased Amsterdam’s decision to ban cruise ships from the city centre, even if that claim has since been contested by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).

Portrayed as though another evil in the fight against carbon emissions had been slain, we could all go back to prancing by the windmill and giggling by the river. Amsterdam had been saved.

Except, that's not entirely true. If CLIA statements are to be believed, then nothing will change – visitor numbers will remain unperturbed.

Once again, the cruise industry has been cast into the media spotlight for an environmental grilling on its regular rotisserie, but there’s a grim and calculated political logic to what’s going on.

If you delve behind the shock announcement of ‘banning cruise liners’, it sounds as though Amsterdam’s governing bodies have a different plan of action. There’s unquestionably an unspoken agenda lurking between carefully-crafted official statements, and it’s a blistering mess of toxic manipulation and equivocal statecraft.

For example, reports from the likes of the BBC highlighted one notion above all else: Dutch politicians are screaming about pollution. And that’s all the cruise industry’s fault.

That’s a hypocritical game to play, however. Singling out the cruise industry as the problem child in matters regarding pollution makes for an ill-founded move – especially when it brings so much to the economy.

Paired with the badly-kept secret that Amsterdam is culling the "excessive visitor numbers" subsequently makes for a false economy. It apparently points to one thing – party political manoeuvres starting with a distraction technique; war on the tourist, and war on the cruise industry.

Save the environment, but don’t go delving into what else we’re up to.

Amsterdam cruise ship ban: A case of divide and conquer? Credit: Real Response Media

Divide and conquer: An age-old technique

Intensive scrutiny has rightfully been enforced upon the cruise industry over recent years. All sectors of the travel industry need to be held accountable for increasingly stringent carbon targets, with cries for cruise companies to clean up their act.

We get that. It’s a changing world where people remain fearful of environmental consequences and are therefore easily brainwashed. By creating a common enemy in which to spearhead campaigns, you can run amok with an ego-centric agenda that nobody can logically argue against.

Basically, you employ humanity’s contemporary worries to aid and abet plans that otherwise wouldn’t be tolerated.

Flood the proletariat’s frontal lobe with constant scares regarding global warming and city-wide deterioration, and you can easily make yourself the saviour of humanity by banning cruise ships and tackling tourism; simultaneously masking what is truly going on behind the front pages.

This tactic has been employed for decades. People were told during the 1960s that oil would be extinct within a decade, before the 1970s ushered in the worry about a fresh ice age. Acid rain was one of the topics driven into the frenzied public consciousness throughout the 1980s, until the 1990s made the Ozone layer a topic of contention prior to Y2K signalling the end of humanity.

Call me sceptical but oil is still with us, the millennium didn’t cause planes to fall from the sky and a new ice age didn’t materialise. Yet, something did materialise from all that politically-driven hysteria.

Extra taxation; largely spent on wars and overseas campaigns. These taxes unscrupulously funded a plethora of dishonest activities – staging a coup in Chile, giving Osama Bin-Laden and other terrorists more than $3 billion to fight the Soviets, and providing Saddam Hussein with billions in aid to kill Iranians, to pinpoint only a trio of examples.

If you look at what’s going on in the world right now, then focus on activities that seem to coincide with the sudden announcement of taxes being spent on up-to-the-minute concerns. And what’s going on in the Netherlands today?

Well, the Dutch coalition government collapsed due to an immigration and asylum policies row. The dust from the Dutch childcare benefits scandal has barely settled. The Prime Minister has stood down and there’s political mayhem on the horizon.

It’s a case of divide and conquer. By making it difficult to go against the grain, you can massage the facts to fit the views and find money for risky actions, or to rectify potential scandals and pull the shutters down. Pick a target and run with it – such as Amsterdam’s situation neatly demonstrates.

Mission Amsterdam: Use the fashionable concern of environmental pollution to turn attention away from the real agenda – in this case, seemingly eliminating the current crop of tourists to mask governmental turmoil (and all the overspending that comes with it).

Amsterdam's city council has decided to close a cruise ship terminal in its centre. Credit: Shutterstock

Blame it on the cruise industry

I’ll just go ahead and say it – this feels like a personal vendetta against the cruise tourist, thinly veiled by the In-Vogue crusade to curb pollution.

Amsterdam is deep in the process of an image change and those in power – the centre-right D66 party – are not happy with the city’s rabid party image. It makes them feel dirty.

Some would say that Amsterdam has become a victim of its own success. The city’s hardcore image draws annual visitors of more than 20 million people, and D66 doesn’t like that. Not one bit. Especially when that figure consists of sordid groups seeking a good time that’s mainly illegal elsewhere.

In a bid to scrub the streets clean, Amsterdam council has already banned cannabis smoking on the streets of the red-light district. Come use our legal prostitution, but don’t you dare smoke weed.

Digital advertisements appeared in March 2023 discouraging British youngsters from seeking entertainment in Amsterdam, while plans have been announced that indicate nightclubs and venues will be moved into abandoned dockland tunnels and industrial buildings outside the city centre.

It’s legislative cleansing aimed at stripping Amsterdam of the burden of mass tourism and unruly youth. Modern policies for a safer Amsterdam. And, unbelievably, cruise ships have become the ultimate symbol of the issue.

More than 100 vessels moor up in the Dutch capital every year, attracting scowls from the likes of D66’s Ilana Rooderkerk, who runs the city alongside environmentalists and the Labour party.

"Cruise ships in the centre of the city don't fit in with Amsterdam's task of cutting the number of tourists," Rooderkerk has been quoted as saying. Mind you, this is from the party also caught slating cruise tourists as a “plague of locusts.”

Mayor Femke Halsema took a similar approach, claiming that cruise tourists opted to spend their money at international chains and mostly ignored the city’s unique culture, absorbing Amsterdam but not putting anything back into the economy.

Which sounds like tripe, if you ask me.

Even if that were the case, those international chains must still pay corporation tax on a sliding scale against profits. Regardless of where cruise tourists spend money, the Dutch government rakes in serious cash. So why the blatant excuses to whip up an anti-cruise tourist stance?

Will the cruise ship ban affect Amsterdam's economy? Credit: Shutterstock

An economic hit

Not everyone radiates such an unfriendly stance towards cruise tourists, however. Various officials haven’t taken kindly to harsh comments regarding mass tourism, but they can’t be seen to argue in the face of pollution concerns.

And that’s the key reason for banning these ships, it seems; to boost political morale through scapegoated environmentalism. I cannot imagine that shop owners and museum patrons have ever bemoaned about the footfall from cruise passengers, especially when they accept those wildly-inflated prices and help pay the prospective bills.

In fact, without mass tourism – and cruisers – how badly would the locals suffer in terms of their economy and infrastructure?

Amsterdam perches towards the top of Europe’s cost-of-living index. Residency costs there exceed more than 85 per cent of the world’s cities. Consumer costs are higher than those in Los Angeles, and visiting a restaurant costs almost twice as much as Singapore’s priciest venues.

Cruise tourism contributes around 105 million Euros to the city annually. Is it feasible to expect local businesses and Amsterdam’s people to therefore cope without that injection of high-paying tourism?

The shortfall will need to be found from somewhere, likely hitting those whom are already struggling to stay afloat through a direct result of inevitable extra taxation – mainly to fund Amsterdam’s image change.

Redundancies could also become a factor that stalks residents. Lay-offs will ultimately stem from the closure of Amsterdam’s central cruise terminal on the River IJ – near Amsterdam’s main train station – with the domino effect rippling outwards from there.

It’s difficult to make claims against the environmental grain, though. Especially when a 2021 study found that one large cruise ship pumped the same levels of NOx (nitrogen oxides) into the air in 24 hours as 30,000 trucks.

Yet, with 52.5 million people using Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport per annum, at an average of 163kg worth of Co2 per return flight, is the aviation sector any better? Are we really witnessing a rule for one, and a differing rule for another?

Amsterdam is a city of unparalleled cultural treasures. Credit: Shutterstock

Amsterdam: A changing attraction

So, what’s planned for the future? According to various sources, cruise ships should still be able to get close to Amsterdam, but no mooring sites have been confirmed.

The whole plan has apparently been under consideration for some time, but no official decisions or announcements have been made, despite negotiations with CLIA since 2016. And this is where the waters become muddied.

CLIA issued a statement saying that “cruise ships have not been banned from Amsterdam,” following the subsequent media scrum of last week’s headlines.

It was widely reported that local politicians were hell-bent on preventing cruise ships from entering the heart of the city due to environmental concerns. However, CLIA has said that discussions to relocate the terminal to outside the city centre are far from new.

It’s hard not to feel as though Amsterdam is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. D66 want to set foundations as an environmentally-aware party making positive differences to the city, yet retain the cruise industry to keep the cash taps open – by punting ships away from the centre. It looks as though they are doing something, but keeps the cash flowing in.

So, does that mean there’s not actually any change happening on the horizon? Are ships still set to arrive by the dozen, bringing the same footfall and pollution levels? Is there really an agenda against tourists, or is that a political divide and conquer technique to prevent other Dutch issues from reaching the proletariat?

And yet, with such a poor attitude towards cruise tourists, amid a seemingly sanctimonious approach to tourism in general, is Amsterdam worth visiting via cruise ship? That’s a question for you to answer.

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About Calum Brown

Calum holds a deep interest in all things heritage and remains one of Britain’s most enthusiastic historians.

As a seasoned journalist, he has spent considerable time abroad and relishes all forms of transport. Shipping is in the blood, with a family connection to Stena Line embedded in his DNA. He also refuses to admit that 21st Century music exists.

Calum has developed a skill for bringing history alive, and always insists on making heritage accessible for everyone.