By January 1, 2020, they should be gone from the Amsterdam Red Light District: groups of tourists, shuffling through Amsterdam’s old historical centre during “rush hour”. The executive board of the municipality of Amsterdam considers it “not respectful towards the sex workers”. Alderman Udo Kock thinks it “no longer fits in 2019 to see sex workers as a tourist attraction”. In addition, neighborhood residents, sex workers and entrepreneurs in particular, experience a great deal of nuisance from drunken and disrespectful tourists. The measures must also help against the pressure on the Red Light District. The tourist ban in Amsterdam at this time only applies to guided tours.
Elard Tissot from Patot sees a different side to the story. His company has been organizing group tours through the Red Light District since 2014. “I think the Red Light District should remain a tourist attraction, surely everyone should be able to see this neighborhood?” The tourists give him dozens of questions about sex workers, the neighborhood and how brothels can exist alongside daycare centers. “They are surprised about how things are done here, that this is possible. It’s important that tourists keep hearing about this.”says Tissot van Patot.
He acknowledges that there is nuisance in the neighbourhood, but he finds that tour groups do not cause this. He believes that the nuisance is caused by pub-crawls and lacking surveillance. Regardless of whose fault the nuisance is, according to Tissot van Patot it would be a shame if the history of the Red Light District could no longer be told.
Tissot van Patot has always had an interest in this neighborhood, which he believes is the historic center of the city. “I was curious about the history of the neighborhood, what kind of people live and work there.” He thoroughly researched that story and now tells the thousands of tourists who walk through the Red Light District area every year.
“It ‘s not that they are all looking at the sex workers with mouths open, but they are interested in the background of the neighborhood and have a lot of respect for the Red Light District and its sex workers,” says Tissot van Patot. “They also want to know everything about the sex workers: for example, about the security, where they come from and especially how it’s possible that this neighborhood can exist and how this can be legal here.”
According to Tissot van Patot, the Red Light District is part of the city of Amsterdam. “The people of Amsterdam see this as a normal neighborhood, this is where Amsterdam originated.” According to the guide, the Red Light District shows a large part of Dutch liberal culture. “This is probably the only place in the world where prostitution is next to faith, where brothels can be found next to daycare centers. This is unique in the world.” And the tourists need to keep hearing about that special story.
It has been restless in the Red Light District of Amsterdam for some time. For example, local residents, guides and civil servants signed a covenant in 2017. “A gentlemen’s agreement,” Tissot van Patot calls it. “We shook hands and agreed that we would handle the situation in the Red Light District properly”.
First convenant-signatories: City of Amsterdam (incl: Kajsa Ollongren & Boudewijn Oranje), residents, guides and tour operators.
Not everyone adhered to to it, according to Tissot van Patot. This was followed by an exemption with municipal agreements: a permit, introduced on 1st of April 2018. You are currently not allowed to walk around with more than twenty participants. No standing still in certain alleys. Show respect for the sex workers and no taking pictures for example. Nowadays there are 1600 permit-holders, of which 12 (0.75%) received a fine for breaking the new rules that are part of this permit/exemption. From those 12, 6 were hosts of pub-crawls. (source: https://www.amsterdam.nl/bestuur-organisatie/college/wethouder/udo-kock/persberichten/amsterdam-gaat-0/)
According to the municipality of Amsterdam, these rules also weren’t adequate enough. It was decided that there should simply be no more group tours in the Red Light District and they will implement the tourist ban in Amsterdam for tour groups starting on the first of January, 2020.
This interview was originally posted at the Dutch Metro newspaper.