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Because prostitution and certain recreational drugs are legal there, the city has become a tourist destination for partiers from around the world. This is partly by design. Between and , the number of yearly visitors to Amsterdam rose from eleven million to eighteen million. Today, some thousand guided tours pass through the red-light district each week—at peak times, twenty-eight groups an hour, according to the city. The government has changed course, raising taxes on tourists in Amsterdam and attempting to divert them to other Dutch cities and towns Zandvoort!
When I visited last month, the streets of De Wallen were strung with festive banners warning people not to pee in the street or drink alcohol in public spaces. Earlier this year, the city of Amsterdam announced plans to ban guided tours of the red-light district from walking on streets with window brothels, beginning in April of next year. Part of her rationale was her concerns about trafficking in the Netherlands.
When I spoke with a longtime sex worker in Amsterdam recently, she noted, more bluntly, that the government is increasingly hostile to her business. The city of Amsterdam announced plans to ban guided tours of the red-light district from going down streets with window brothels, beginning in April of next year.
Jacqy is nearing middle age and tall, with a booming laugh. She has been a sex worker for more than twenty years and started visiting the P. She leads a tour of the red-light district one afternoon a week. The P. She thought that these were good rules though not often enforced. But the prospect of banning the tours worried her, partially because they bring in business. Other measures, like covering the windows with curtains, carry the suggestion that sex work, while legal, is somehow shameful.
The new policies, and the more existential threat of moving the windows out of De Wallen, has given rise to groups like Red Light United, a union for sex workers in Amsterdam that was founded this year to resist the changes.