Turning tricks for less: crunch hits Amsterdam's red-light district
Eva, a 25-year-old prostitute in Amsterdam's red-light district, gestures angrily in the direction of a rival who has slashed her rates as the economic crisis emboldens sex tourists to haggle.
"People like her make it very difficult for the rest of us," scowled the leggy, blonde Estonian as she dragged on a cigarette in skimpy black-and-white lingerie, all the while posing seductively for men passing the window in which she flaunts her talents.
"Some of the girls are now doing it for 30 euro (about USD 42). My price is still 50 euro, but the men are playing us off against each other. Some want to pay only 20 euro," she told AFP.
Eva is not the only one complaining.
As the credit crunch keeps away sight-seers and business travellers, the owners of brothels, escort agencies and sex shops all grumble that those visitors who still do indulge in the pleasures of the flesh are increasingly tight-fisted.
"Things are bad," lamented salesman Dave Doeve. He owns Casa Rosso sex shop in the middle of Amsterdam's brazen red-light district where neon-lit prostitutes' windows normally draw hordes of tourists.
"There are no people, as you can see. And those who come buy small things, condoms ... cheap things."
Brothel owner Willy van der Sloot, herself a former prostitute, said she had never seen the sex market so depressed.
"Some days there are just no people," she sighed.
Twenty-six-year-old Oxana, who shares Eva's window, says her income has halved in six months while her window rent went up 25 percent in January.
On a "good day", she sees six clients but sometimes only one -- at 50 euro per visitor not enough to cover her half of the 150 euro daily rent.
"But I can't do it for 20 or 30 euro like some of the others. That is not money."
Escort club owner Hugo Snoep said "things have never been this bad" in his 16 years in the business.
"Me and the girls are battling to keep our heads above water."
-- We are all in the same economic boat --
Between taking calls from clients, offering them a special price of 160 euro per girl per hour -- down from the usual 175, Snoep said the economic crisis had made a deep dent in his biggest client base -- travelling businessman.
"Before, they had big expense accounts from which they could subtract their 'meals' and the like. Nowadays, their bosses are not so generous. We are all in the same economic boat.
"Where I used to send out 12 to 14 girls a day, now I am down to just three some days."
According to Andre van Dorst, director of the Netherlands' VER sex industry association, turnover had dropped 30 to 40 percent over the last year.
The more exclusive the club, the bigger the impact as clients seek cheaper options.
"Eating and drinking are the very last things people save on, followed by sex -- both are basic needs. In these difficult economic times, people frequent restaurants less and supermarkets more, just as they opt for less glamorous sex clubs," said van Dorst.
Metje Blaak, spokeswoman for De Rode Draad (The Red Thread) sex workers' representative group, said clients were "paying less and demanding more".
"And the girls often have no choice but to discount their prices. They have to pay the rent."
Though prostitution has long been tolerated in the famously liberal Dutch capital city, the Netherlands only legalised the world's oldest profession in 2000.
Last December, Amsterdam's city officials announced plans to halve the total 482 prostitutes' windows in the centre in a multi-million revamp that would also involve shuttering many cannabis-vending coffee shops -- another tourist ‘draw-card’.
Officials claim the two vices, in themselves not illegal, attract elements of organised crime -- but observers have pointed to a growing Dutch conservatism.
Blaak warned that these changes, coupled with the economic recession, was forcing the industry underground as sex workers struggling to make ends meet abandon the regulated environment to avoid having to pay window rent and the 35 percent income tax.
"You are already seeing more women walking the streets," said Blaak.
"The economic crisis is changing the character of the industry. Previously, the women were in charge, now it is the men who call the shots."
AFP/ Mariette le Roux / Expatica