Maybe Amsterdam can’t have its Stroopwaffel and eat it

Date 20.03.2018

Eurostar will launch its London to Amsterdam rail service on 4 April.

Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, Alan Lovell, looks at the implications for airline operators, travellers, business – and what it means for an already over-stretched capital city.

“A host of attractions centred on iconic names such as Van Gogh and Anne Frank, a singular freedom of spirit, a uniqueness of culture and debonair rubbing shoulders with debauchery. Amsterdam has for many decades thrived on mass tourism and the economic benefits inherent. Maybe the times are a changing. The increasing recognition of ‘overtourism’ as a concept and, more alarmingly, a stark reality of the negative impacts of tourism, such as congestion and dilution of culture, is potentially changing the tourism dynamic in the city. An estimated 12 million visitors in 2016 against less than one million residents presents a compelling comparison of the imbalance potentially attributable to the growth of tourism in the city.

Authorities have imposed taxes on overnight stays, placed restrictions on city centre accommodation development and rallied against the invasive and increasingly pervasive threat of Airbnb on property prices in addition to the aforementioned spectre of overtourism. Set against this shifting backdrop, Eurostar will commence direct services from London to Amsterdam from 4 April with tickets from £35 one way. As a viable and alternative method to the host of air travel options provided by both low cost and national carriers from the UK, the Eurostar option may be attractive to both business and leisure visitors alike with a promised journey time of four hours from London St Pancras to Amsterdam Centraal. However, the lure of reducing the additional time getting to an airport and moving through the associated security processes may be offset by an ongoing lack of clarity as to where and how passport and immigration checks will take place on the Eurostar service with delays to the advertised travel times resultant. The muddy waters of unclarity that is Brexit negotiations regarding border controls could exacerbate this impasse further.

From a consumer perspective, the increase in competition could precipitate a price war beneficial to the traveller. The new service will operate twice daily during the week and once at a weekend. Will this fulfil demand and provide credible opposition to the airlines? Eurostar go to the lengths of providing a comparative ‘hidden costs of flying’ calculator on their website and there is the notable advantage of no extra baggage costs and being deposited directly into the heart of the city without the requirement for transfers. Given that the return trip to Amsterdam on Eurostar will cost the individual upwards of £70, from a price perspective, budget airlines such as Easyjet, can undercut to around the £50 mark for return flights from airports such as Stansted, Luton and Southend. Clearly, there are pros and cons to both options although airlines, wrongly, discredit Eurostar as significant competition. For the green consumer, it is interesting to note that, reportedly, travelling by Eurostar represents an 80% reduction in carbon emissions. Additionally, there is the mini-cruise and ferry alternative available to the consumer too at competitive price points but with a longer travel time, maybe directed more at the leisure market.

Amsterdam has seen considerable economic growth in the last decade, particularly in areas such as digital media and commerce. With this growth comes demand for reliable, speedy and cost-effective transport provision. Eurostar’s new service may be aimed as much at the business traveller as the leisure consumer with this in mind. With such growth, arguably there is space for both air and rail provision to Amsterdam to co-exist although it is too early to know how popular the Eurostar option will be. As UK businesses begin the process of assessing the impact of Brexit, the lure of moving operations or HQs to the European continent may become attractive, particularly for those that trade predominantly on the continent. Equally, international investment may focus on European hubs such as Amsterdam as opposed to London, potentially driving the demand for services such as Eurostar’s new offering.

The contrasting variables may prove to be a stumbling block for both Amsterdam’s economic growth and the success of the Eurostar service to the city. Foreign investment may be curbed by the rising property prices and there appears to be two contrasting directions evolving simultaneously. With one hand, the city is welcoming the boost of economic growth and investment, whilst concurrently, the impacts of mass tourism and the sheer weight of visitor numbers for business and tourism purposes alike are manifesting in an increasing multitude of negative impacts. It appears that tipping points have been reached in relation to some of these impacts and the resultant mitigation measures may make investment an unattractive proposition. Does this represent a Catch 22 scenario? The Eurostar service will be subject to ongoing external, macro factors and challenges. Maybe Amsterdam can’t have its Stroopwaffel and eat it.”