A major investigation into the Dutch capital's "floating flower market" has exposed a scam targeting the city's 19 million tourists.

The report commissioned by the Amsterdam city council revealed 99 per cent of bulbs bought from Amsterdam's famous tourist market never bloomed. Conducted by the KAVB Dutch bulb growers association in the market garden town of Lisse, growers planted 1364 bulbs bought covertly at the markets.

In spite of the great expertise and facilities available to the gardeners they only 14 plants that produced a flower of any kind. This represents a success rate of just over 1 per cent.

It was found that 92 per cent of the crop failed to produce any green growth.

Lucky dip: An investigation found that 99 per cent of bulbs sold failed to produce a flower. Photo / Flickr.com, Robyn Fleming
Lucky dip: An investigation found that 99 per cent of bulbs sold failed to produce a flower. Photo / Flickr.com, Robyn Fleming

Suspicions were raised after the KAVB ran a similar investigation into another flower market targeting tourists.

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The "flower boulevard" in Lisse fared only slightly better with flowers produced from 2 per cent of bulbs. Only half of these matched the colour and variety they were sold under.

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The tulip is the national flower of Holland and the Netherlands. It is also a prized souvenir for tourists. However bulb sellers appear to be taking advantage of visitors as a way to offload dud and damaged stock.

The KAVB has described it as a "long running scam" targeting tourists. The scale and wide-spread nature of the might suggest the roots of the scam go far deeper.

Seedy underbelly: The tourist scam is widespread. Flickr.com, Robyn Fleming
Seedy underbelly: The tourist scam is widespread. Flickr.com, Robyn Fleming

"Millions of tourists and day trippers are victims each year," René le Clercq KAVB chairman said in a statement. "But the tulip is our national symbol, bulb trade is important for the Dutch economy and we are horrified that organised scammers are misleading consumers and damaging the sector's image."

KAVB turned over their results to the Dutch consumer watchdog.

Amsterdam council has advised tourists buying bulbs from the market to return them immediately with a receipt of sale.

Ilse Griek of the council's city-centre economy mission described the results as "much worse than we thought".

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"This is our national flower and symbol and is immensely popular with tourists. Amsterdam receives 19 million visitors a year and many of them go to the flower market. It is important to prevent this deception and protect consumers," Griek said in a statement.

The term
The term "tulip mania" describes when buyers are fooled into paying massively inflated prices. Photo / File

Raphael Chlopnicki a market worker defended his bulbs, cheerfully telling The Daily Telegraph that is was all a matter of storing the bulbs correctly and planting at the right time for optimum results:

"You can see the bulbs and see the quality, and if you put them in the fridge and keep them cold and dry, everything will be fine. April is not the moment to plant."

The Amsterdam city council under mayor Femke Halsema has made subjugating the city's rowdy tourism industry a priority.

Initially targeting "problem tourists" and the city's infamous red light district, the city council is now looking at cleaning up the act of Amsterdam's other "seedy" tourism attractions. Namely its flower sellers and souvenir shops.

While the main focus of the 2030 project is to rebalance the city's economy in favour of the 850,000 residents - who are besieged by almost 20 million visitors every year – the tourist "cafes" and souvenir shops have created other problems for the city.

In 2018 the Dutch police union published a paper blaming the gedoogbeleid or "tolerance policy" towards cannabis cafes and the city's sex industry as opening up a black market in drugs and people trafficking.

'The tulip is our national symbol, bulb trade is important for the Dutch economy'. Photo / File
'The tulip is our national symbol, bulb trade is important for the Dutch economy'. Photo / File

However other parts of the lucrative Dutch tourism industry have also become a front for organised crime.

Between 2014 and 2017 police arrested sellers at the Royal FloraHolland flower market outside Amsterdam who had been using the gardens as a front for smuggling drugs and - amongst other things – 15 tons of stolen Lindt chocolate.

There are no current criminal investigations into the widespread sale of dud-bulbs but the matter has been raised with the national consumer watchdog.

The tulip bulbs first imported to Holland in the 1500s and in the 1600 the passion for the national obsession with the flower helped cause a market crash.

The term "tulip mania" was coined to describe when buyers are fooled into paying massively inflated prices for goods – painted wooden clogs or dud bulbs, for instance.