If you want to get arrested in Amsterdam these days you have two options. The first I do not recommend, although it is receiving lots of publicity at the moment thanks to the city’s new marketing campaign.
Launched earlier this year and aimed at young British men, its message is this: come to Amsterdam for a “messy night” and you might find yourself in the slammer. Drunkenness, smoking joints in public, and peeing in the street are among the misdemeanours that could lead to – what we will call here – the classic arrest.
Now, the benefits of the classic arrest are that you don’t have to book in advance and it’s the cheapest option. According to Amsterdam’s “Stay Away” campaign, perpetrators will cough up €140 for the experience. But you get what you pay for: expect manhandling by cops, all your belongings temporarily confiscated and a night in a brightly lit cell dreaming of Egyptian cotton.
The other option would be my preference (if I had to choose). It’s not cheap. You’re looking at around €300 and must book in advance. But drinks are included and after you’ve been led away in pink fluffy handcuffs you’re given a stern telling off by a stripper as they wriggle out of a skimpy police uniform. This is what’s known as the “stag arrest” and it’s bookable online.
And therein lies the problem: while the city tries to rein in unruly behaviour – smoking cannabis on the streets of the red light district is now banned – there is an entire industry out there profiting from it. The €300 “stag arrest” being one of dozens of louche experiences available to smut-seeking tourists in the Dutch capital.
The city that invented the stock exchange should understand market forces more than most. And there are many working against it as it tries to navigate mass tourism, not least the dozens of cheap flights crossing the North Sea daily from Britain. Will the new campaign and ban on smoking deter hedonistic Brits from hopping on a plane? I think we all know the answer to that one.
Because it is Brits who are the target of all this – and not just in Amsterdam. In Lanzarote, president María Dolores Corujo courted controversy recently by suggesting the island reduces its dependance on budget holidaymakers from Britain, and focuses instead on well-heeled folk from France, Germany and the Netherlands. A better class of tourist if you like. Similar noises are coming from other Spanish islands.
Amsterdam has pursued this strategy for years with scant evidence of success. Having identified the red-light district as a honeypot for the “wrong kind of tourist”, the authorities closed many window brothels.
As I discovered on a recent visit, this has merely concentrated voyeurs in a smaller area and upset the local sex workers. Then there’s the ongoing threat of the “weed pass”. If enacted it would bar non-residents from entering coffeeshops, which are also synonymous with budget tourism. Attempts to introduce it in Amsterdam were voted down recently amid concerns that it would drive an increase in street dealing. But some policymakers are still pushing for it.
To all this, Britain may cry snobbery. That’s probably a bit rich coming from the nation that invented it. It feels more like the gentrification of travel. Destinations simply following the money. Better the visitor who drops €100 on lunch, buys tickets for the opera and sleeps in a luxury hotel than the shoestring backpacker spending €10 a day on hash and bedding down in a low-rent hostel.
Nevertheless, the targeting of Britons rankles and raises an obvious question: why us? Are we really that bad?
We certainly have a reputation for hard partying, which was fashionable in the 1990s when 18-30 holidays were all the rage. Perhaps it’s an inevitable consequence of living in a land where we are so routinely hectored, where even laughing gas is banned and there are strict rules dictating where you can stand outside a pub with a pint.
The first sign of freedom and some people, well, go a bit nuts. And while most visits to Amsterdam are trouble free, including stag dos, there’s always at least one boozed up Brit who vomits on someone’s doorstep – and you can’t blame the usually tolerant Dutch for wanting to see the back of them.
It’s also a matter of numbers. Britain is the biggest market for many European destinations looking to reduce visitors, Lanzarote included. It’s inevitable that we have become a target. And it’s not just us. The weed pass has already been introduced to other Dutch cities to keep the “wrong kind” of Germans away.
But we have been warned. It’s best behaviour from here on. If you are to be taken away in cuffs the next time you visit Amsterdam, then make sure they are pink and fluffy.