When Cities Are Empty - (A Tour Guide's Guide To Lockdown) No.2 - Mark in Amsterdam
In this series I'm contacting a number of Tour Guides from around the world and asking them how they’ve been affected by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, what restrictions their individual governments have imposed, the impact, what they’ve been doing to keep their business ticking over, what their thoughts are for the future …and things like that.
Mark's been doing his tours in Amsterdam for the last seven years. I met him a couple of years ago when he came to London and did two walks with me over the course of a particularly cold, wet and snowy weekend.
Tell us a bit about your company?
That Dam Guide is Amsterdam’s best rated small group and private tour company. I started the company in 2013 to offer small group tours, 8 people max, at a reasonable cost. My basic tour is a 3-hour history and general info walking tour on the old town. The Red Light District gets its own 90-minute walking tour. About 5 years ago I started offering driving tours through lovely countryside to windmills, a family farm and, in the tulip season, to Keukenhof Gardens and tulip fields.
How has your government’s approach to Coronavirus impacted you and your business?
I am a sole trader and use freelance guides. The Dutch government has been pretty supportive to freelancers and sole traders. They have given us all between 500 and 1500 euros a month depending on our circumstances. This is now being extended to October. The amount I get is nowhere close to my lost earnings but it does cover my rent and food. Museum, hotels, cafes, bars were closed until the 1st June so there have been no tourists in town. Planned meetings of more than 2 people were also banned so that precluded walking or driving tours.
Have you been self isolating / in lockdown? If so, how long and what’s your top tip for surviving?
No, it was not necessary to self-isolate. Amsterdam had a fairly lax lockdown. I threw myself into doing household chores I’ve put off for years and lots of cooking.
What have you been doing during this period to keep your business ticking over?
I didn’t do anything initially and treated it like a spring staycation. Okay, I did a lot of admin, issuing refunds for all bookings!
I’ve made a couple of little films of parts of tours, like walking through the tulip fields as I could still drive and enjoy them.
I’ve switched all of my remaining tours that are available for booking in 2020 from small group to private tours. I feel that people might be reluctant to join a group of strangers, no matter how small. I’ve also slashed the price of the private tours to make them affordable for people who would usually book a small group tour.
I’ve spent a while buying and testing equipment and am now up and running with virtual tours. This means I am walking and filming and talking to and taking questions from people who are participating from their own home. There have been many things to learn and practice but I feel quite upbeat about these and enjoy them very much.
What have you most missed about not being able to do tours?
I miss the work so much. I love showing people Amsterdam and sharing time chatting with them. It is so rewarding making people on holiday happy and I can’t wait to do it again!
How are you feeling about the future? Do you foresee changes in the tour guiding industry?
It’s so hard to say. I hope that Amsterdam is not overrun like it was before. Mass tourism had taken its toll and locals were fed up. If things can ease back and hopefully a way can be found that limits tourism so that visitors and locals can enjoy the city in harmony!
Do you think life / business will go back to normal?
Sure, why not. There have been countless disasters and tragedies in history and life bounces back. We humans are a resilient lot.
What have you been reading / listening to / playing / watching?
Initially I decided to escape with a bit of fiction. Usually I only read about history in general and the Netherlands in particular. I remembered loving Captain Corelli’s Mandolin so looked up the author and got lost in two recent novels of his: The Dust that Falls from Dreams (2015) and So Much Life Left Over (2018). They were GREAT! Now I’m half way through my favourite book about Amsterdam. It’s by Russell Shorto and called: Amsterdam, the Story of the World’s Most Liberal City. This is an essential read for anyone who is gong to visit the city and wants to get an idea of its history and soul.
Is there something in your city that you’re most looking forward to getting back to / revisiting?
I have missed Droog Design so much. It’s my favourite design space and they host exhibitions exploring the role of design in modern life. I’ve also sorely missed trying new restaurants and all the lovely craft beer bars. Those are now open but unfortunately until work picks up I won’t be doing much luxury spending.
Have you found any positives from the current situation?
Absolutely. With Amsterdam itself, this has been a very interesting experience for me. Because there was no real lockdown and we were allowed to go out at will for any reason, it was possible to cycle the deserted city streets. I remember being on Dam Square at 6pm on a Saturday evening and the place was deserted bar one Romanian clarinettist playing hauntingly melancholic music. Locals have had the space to experience and explore their city without the crush of mass tourism. This has been a thought provoking for all.
Because so many countries have been in lockdown, there was the time and opportunity to connect with friends and family on video call because they were home with not much to do! This has established some routines that will continue post Coronavirus.
Also in this series:
#01 - Silvia in Rome
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.