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Gay Capital - Amsterdam and Gay Tourism

by Hans Hafkamp in Columns & Opinions , 08 mei 2006


Early this year the results were published of an inquiry into Amsterdam as a gay tourist destination in the 21st century, which was conducted by the department of Leisure Management of InHolland College. The researchers wanted to know if Amsterdam will stay an inviting holiday city for gay people. However, they stress the fact that this inquiry has more far-reaching implications. With the present changes in world economy, many production facilities are transferred to low-wage countries and regions. But for the creative and innovative tasks personal contacts remain very important, and these will be increasingly concentrated in so-called “creative cities.”

But in opposition to traditional industry, in which employees moved to the cities where these industries were located, these creative persons are far more likely to settle in cities they like and the industries will follow them there. For the future economic activity of a city it’s therefore very important that creative people will feel at ease there. The American scientist Richard Florida has developed three criteria for these the “creative cities,” the “three T’s of economic growth”: Technology, Talent, and Tolerance. According to Florida, one of the important aspects is the “Gay Index” of a city, since this gives an indication to what extend a city is open and diverse, and as a consequence tolerant. “To some extend, homosexuality represents the last frontier of diversity in our society, and thus a place that welcomes the gay community welcomes all kinds of people,” Florida wrote. According to this line of thought, the degree in which Amsterdam remains attractive to gays is therefore important for the city economy in general.




Whoever puts one’s ear to the ground in Amsterdam’s gay scene, will hear far from optimistic notes. This being so, the question arises why one would inquire into the popularity of Amsterdam as a gay tourist destination, since someone who’s planning a holiday might consider other factors than someone who’s considering to live in a city. We all know that some cities are magnificent holiday destinations, but you wouldn’t want to live there (or vice versa). This problem isn’t even broached in the research report and thus certainly not adequately dealt with. However, some results do give an indication of the measure of Amsterdam’s gay-friendliness, since not only tourists were interviewed, but also, and even more, residents. In my opinion, it’s also strange that Dutch gay people not living in Amsterdam are not included in this survey, since we all know that many of them visit Amsterdam regularly for one or more days. Obviously Amsterdam must offer them some opportunities they don’t have in their own cities.

The researchers underpin something which in fact we knew already, which is that the number of gay tourists to Amsterdam has decreased during the last few years. For international tourism to Amsterdam in general, 2001 was a peak year. Due to several causes, such as the fear of terrorist attacks and SARS, these numbers dropped considerably in the next two years. Statistical data show that tourism to Amsterdam in general increased again in 2004, and even exceeded peak year 2001. Although there are no concrete data about the numbers of gay tourists, everything seems to indicate that this recovery didn’t apply to gay tourism. The question is: why? The answer to this question could have been given by gay people who don’t visit Amsterdam (anymore). Unfortunately the researchers were not able to reach a representative sample of this group. At the start of their investigation they had stipulated that reactions from at least 50 people in this group were required to make the results useful. With only nine reactions this was by no means reached.


Therefore it’s impossible to determine to what extent uncontrollable factors, such as climate, play a major role in their decision not to go to Amsterdam. And this is relatively important in these days, in which the acceptance of homosexuality has made headway in many European cities, and wherefore Amsterdam no longer has a monopoly on tolerance.

The tourists who still call in at Amsterdam, are usually more positive about the city than the residents. A telling point is the fact that the description “worn” is checked by 11% of the tourists and by 26% of the residents.

But when you look at the composition of the resident population, you’ll notice that 41% of them is between 31 and 40 years old, and a staggering 49% over 40, and maybe these numbers can put the results in a somewhat different perspective. Maybe these results don’t tell much about the actual quality of Amsterdam’s gay scene, but more about the degree of jadedness of the respondents.

The same goes for the high percentage of residents who think that ten years ago everything was much better. Of course it’s undoubtedly true that the large clubs, such as the iT and the Roxy, belong to the past, regrettably, but the problem with this kind of almost exclusive numeric research is that subjective factors are being brushed aside.

Therefore it’s a pity the researchers didn’t break down these percentages for the different age groups. Ten years ago the respondents were younger, “thus” more attractive, and maybe that’s the reason why they think there’s nothing happening anymore. We all know these jaded queens, complaining at the bar how good everything was in the past, which only means, however, that they were much younger then and therefore had more (sexual) opportunities.
In general the tourists are reasonably to completely satisfied with Amsterdam’s gay possibilities.

The undervaluation of subjective factors has consequences in other places. The researchers mention several times that the great importance the tourists seem to attach to large-scale events might not be completely accurate since many of the interviews were conducted in the week of Amsterdam Pride and the Canal Parade. In connection with the valuation of Amsterdam’s tolerance and the possibility to walk hand-in-hand, they don’t mention the world-wide publicity incited by the queer bashing attack on American journalist Chris Crain, which took place only months earlier and was stirred up again during the same Gay Pride, because of Crain’s attendance. With this I want to indicate that a survey as the one at issue might look very objective because of all the statistic tables, but is essentially nothing more than a random indication.



This doesn’t mean that the two associates in this survey, the Amsterdam Tourism and Congress Bureau (ATCB) and the Inner City Council, can retrieve important information on closer investigation of all these data. The authors of the report observe for example that Amsterdam’s official tourist website (until recently?) stated: “The information about ‘Gay and Lesbian Amsterdam’ we can’t offer you at this time unfortunately. The complete information will be made available as soon as possible.” At that time the official websites of cities such as London, Berlin and Paris payed already prominent attention to gays as a target group. And this survey acknowledges the fact that nowadays tourists use internet as the prime source to get acquainted with prospective holiday destinations, while only 30% uses travel guides as their major source of information.

Of course it’s a terrific boost to read that the Gay News connected website www.gayamsterdam.com is used most by tourists to retrieve information about gay Amsterdam. But the fact that a private, primarily volunteer website can be an important source of information, also says something about the importance the city of Amsterdam attaches to gay tourists. And that the importance of gay tourists for the city economy in general is more significant than absolute numbers might suggest, is once again substantiated in this report: gay people return more often, they stay longer, and they spend more. The combination of the latter two factors means that a gay tourist spends 43% more during a visit than the average foreign tourist.

For the economy of Amsterdam it’s therefore important that the local authorities and the gay business community join forces to do their utmost to make Amsterdam an alluring gay tourist destination (again). At that this is in the not-so-long run also important to make the Dutch capital a vibrant “creative city” is an additional advantage.



 







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