The American travel writer Rick Steves, a regular guest at the Ambassade Hotel, is renowned in the US as an authority on travelling in Europe. In his travel guides and TV programmes he encourages American tourists to head off the beaten track and genuinely discover other cultures. Steves is also a social activist and philanthropist.
— You are very well-known from your books and blogs about travelling all over the world. Why, for American people, is Amsterdam a nice place to visit? And did this change over the years? —
Amsterdam is a kind of fairy-tale Europe for many Americans: it’s amazingly well-preserved, provides a peek at Old World affluence, and serves up lots of cultural clichés. Combine that with a well-organized tourism welcome, and friendly, English-speaking locals — and Amsterdam makes a good first stop on the Continent. As to what’s changed over the years, mostly it’s Amsterdam’s popularity, combined with the crazy TripAdvisor mindset that makes everybody want to do the same thing — which means congestion at the most popular sights.
— Your mission at Rick Steves’ Europe is not only to give travel advice but also to inspire Americans to broaden their cultural understanding and to contribute to the world by travelling. Contributing to the world we live in is something you have been working on for years with your initiatives such as ‘Bread for the World’. Do you see a positive development in the world? —
A fundamental part of my teaching is helping Americans get out and make friends with the world. Our world is filled with joy, love, and good people…very much like our own neighborhoods. But if your world view is shaped by sensational commercial news (as it is for too many Americans), you become a fearful person. When you become a fearful person, evil politicians can capitalize on that fear and manipulate you. When we travel and get to know people, we become less fearful, and stronger. When we travel, we learn that suffering far away is as real as suffering across the street. We can learn about our country by leaving it and looking at it from afar. A thoughtful traveler understands how important American leadership is in our world, and how impactful our laws can be on struggling people and nations. I support Bread for the World because they bring a compassionate world view and a Christian perspective on taking care of the poor and hungry into the halls of our government. They make a huge difference in how the USA deals with economic justice issues, both at home and abroad.
— You encourage your readers and viewers to visit not just major cities but also cozy villages away from popular tourist routes. The Dutch government is also trying to actively spread tourism to remove the pressure from Amsterdam, but is over-tourism in general not becoming a problem? —
If you only go to famous places, overcrowding is becoming a serious issue. Barcelona’s Ramblas, Amsterdam’s Damrak, and Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori are all changing in character as tourism, Airbnb, and economic forces drive away real communities. This problem is compounded by millions of people from emerging economies, such as India and China, who converge on Europe’s most famous places. Sure, 20% of the top sights in Europe are terribly congested. But 80% of Europe rarely experiences a tourist crowd — and 80% of the Netherlands, too! My tip for the traveler: Get off the beaten path…explore!
— What is in your opinion the most important value that a hotel can offer its guests? From that perspective, do you have any advice for the Ambassade Hotel for the coming years? —
For me, a hotel provides a comfortable, efficient, and friendly nest. It’s a place to call home — and a springboard from which to explore a great city. And that’s why when I sleep in Amsterdam, I choose a hotel like Ambassade.
Best wishes and happy travels!
– Rick Steves