Posted on: May 1, 2020
After years of profitable tourism, Amsterdam’s Red Light District and its window brothels are now deserted. Is the silence a foreshadowing of an uncertain future for this centuries old vibrant area? Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf asked Cor van Dijk, the chairman of the entrepreneurs who are represented in the business association Burgwallen and also Managing Director of the Otten Group, that, among other things, runs the sex theatre Casa Rosso in Amsterdam.
Cor van Dijk – chairman of Amsterdam’s Red Light District business association.
11% of all jobs in Amsterdam were in the tourism and catering-industry, before the corona-crisis. That is 1 out 9 people. Almost 70.000 jobs.
In recent years there have been some complaints in Amsterdam about the crowds of tourists, especially in the Red Light District, that is now different. Many Amsterdam residents who depend on tourism hope for a quick return of visitors, says van Dijk. Since January 1 2020, he represents, in addition to the entrepreneurs who are located on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal, the entrepreneurs located on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudekerksplein.
How are things now in the empty Red Light District of Amsterdam?
Cor van Dijk: It really is a ghost town. I speak with window brothel operators. They are anxiously waiting for things to be allowed open again.
Amsterdam’s city centre is hit extra hard because tourists and visitors are no longer there. Locals are hardly ever found there anyway.
Amsterdam’s Red Light District is an entertainment area where people also live. We find this very important for the neighborhood. We did not see the local residents before, but now we do speak to them. 90% of the residents in the Red Light District live here to their great satisfaction and never complain.
How will the Red Light District blossom again?
I’m afraid that a vaccine will not be available soon. But hopefully there will soon be a means by which people who become infected will not all end up in the intensive care anymore. When that happens, I think much of the fear will go away. We’re all huddled up together at the moment. I think that if people are allowed to travel and fly again, life will get going again here. But it won’t immediately be full, I suspect.
Are entrepreneurs already under water?
Yes, window brothel operators in particular! They are about to go bankrupt. These are the large window brothel operators with dozens of windows. They do not receive government support. It depends on how long it’s going to take, otherwise it will be really bleak here. The moment the window brothel industry disappears; you pull out the heart from Amsterdam’s Red Light District area. Maybe even from the city itself.
You have to wonder if the other functions around here still have a right to exist. Think of the theaters, restaurants, sex shops, you name it. Many tour guides and tour companies in Amsterdam are also seriously affected. There are also entrepreneurs who do have some “fat on their bones”, but they won’t last for years. If I look at our own company, the Otten Group, the reserves will run out in a few months.
What else do you hear?
I hear from entrepreneurs that (approximately 25% of all) Amsterdam sex workers now work from home. The demand for paid sex might have remained unchanged, but of course the supply is no longer there. I think that an alternative is now being sought.
1.5 meters distance inside window brothels, is that possible? Sex workers with facemasks seem rather clumsy to me, in this “contact profession”. Some people also claim that it could take a long time before the municipality of Amsterdam and Dutch government consider it responsible to allow paid sex again.
The sex work industry is not my industry, but I would find it strange if sex workers are treated differently than other contact professions, such as the masseurs. In any case, this crisis should not be used as an improper means of achieving long held city planning desires. In retrospect, the criticism on project 1012 was that criminal law was used to get city planning matters done. It would be inappropriate if that happens again.
The vacancies that would arise in Amsterdam Red Light District area in the future as a result of bankruptcies can be used by the municipality to “redesign” the area, right?
I don’t know if that’s the idea of the City of Amsterdam. Earlier there was talk about an alternative sex location outside this neighborhood (the so-called sex hotel), but that was mainly intended for the currently unlicensed industry. The second thing investigated was the costs that would arise if the window brothels were dropped. They are huge. I don’t think Mayor Halsema wants to get rid of the window brothels either. When I showed the mayor around Amsterdam’s Red Light District, just after she took office, she indicated that she thinks the prostitution industry with the window brothels serve a very important function. I don’t think she’ll use this crisis to clean things up.
The “Latin-American” corner.
What should happen next in Amsterdam when the economy restarts?
I think you should try to make things as easy as possible for small businesses. Any rules that stand in the way of that should be relaxed. Especially for the period that people need to survive. I am thinking, for example, of the terrace policy. Maybe you should increase the opening of other stores. It is difficult to explain to guests that the shops in the Red Light District are closed at 10:00 pm, while they can still buy things 200 meters away at Amsterdam’s Central Station.
How will things go at the Casa Rosso Erotic Theatre?
This week we measured how many customers we can have in the new ‘1.5 meter society’. We came to 47 people. When they’re couples, they can sit next to each other, we came to a maximum of 58 visitors in the theatre hall. Normally it can accommodate 184 people. We always had a continuous show, but we have to change that. Then, for example, you would have a show every hour, you have to make arrangements about when people can go to the toilet. We probably can’t serve drinks either. I don’t know if that is financially attractive. Perhaps the cost is greater than the income. That is also what I hear from the hospitality industry: for about seventy percent of the hospitality industry, the “1.5 meter society” isn’t profitable. Also not for window brothels.
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Also Amsterdam’s Casa Rosso Theatre is closed during the corona-crisis.
When do you expect the first stream of visitors?
I’m betting on June 2020. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I think I should stay positive. It may first only be Dutch and European tourists. I think the tourists from other parts of the world will wait a while. We already spotted the first German tourists last weekend. They came here to take pictures.
Are you not afraid of the end of Amsterdam’s Red Light District?
I think this neighbourhood will always keep its appeal, as long as those functions remain: sex workers who will hopefully be able to get back to work in the window brothels and things around them. Then I think the old glory will return again. The Red Light District in Amsterdam is on many people’s wish-list to visit.
And that without mass tourism and its accompanying problems?
It was often only about the inappropriate behaviour that people were annoyed with: groups of drunk people who did not know how to behave. The moment that you start to enforce this properly, I think that this nuisance will also be limited. We can all come up with new rules, but every rule that we come up with and that is then not enforced confirms the prejudice about Amsterdam – also in the future – that everything is possible and allowed.