Conference was illuminating, whilst the company and hospitality before and after, in Amsterdam and The Hague, was a genuine delight.
There is a smoking ban in Holland but, being freedom-loving continental Europeans and not anally-retentive British pussies, choice is offered in spades. It wasn't very difficult to seek out bars which didn't throw you outside to smoke while you enjoyed their beer.
I also noted that there weren't any boarded up ones, either. It appears to be an alien phenomenon to the Dutch.
As our host at last night's hot and pricey Indian restaurant brought out the post-meal ashtrays, I became thoughtful and intrigued as to why this huge difference in fortunes between the Dutch and British hospitality industries exists.
After all, Labour do tell us that the recession was global.
The tough international economic conditions will not leave the Netherlands unscathed. The Dutch economy may have grown by 2% year-on-year in 2008, but the economy was already shrinking in the last three quarters, from a quarter on quarter perspective. In the fourth quarter in particular, economic activity declined drastically. This development will continue to an even stronger degree throughout the first half of 2009. After that the economy will very gradually pick up again, but on balance the Dutch economy will shrink both this year and next. This year the negative growth will reach 3½%, the largest contraction since 1931.Surely that would have had an effect on Dutch bar owners, considering the price of a pint in The Hague and Amsterdam these past couple of days was between €5 and €6 (£4.50 to £5.50 [conv]). OK, that was in the cities, but the mean price of a beer in other areas is €4 (£3.60), which is on a par with or, in some cases in excess of, prices in Central London.
But bars don't close over there. Why ever not?
Perhaps they haven't got the same evil supermarket companies as we have, eh? Yes. That'll be it.
The Dutch foundation for alcohol prevention, STAP, wants Dutch supermarkets to stop selling crates of beer at bargain prices. The foundation is concerned that the low prices encourage excessive drinking, especially at a time of year when young people are celebrating their exam results.Hmm. Perhaps not.
STAP is calling for a minimum price for beer and wants the market leader to withdraw its product from the supermarkets that choose to sell the beer at excessively low prices.
A crate of Heineken beer contains 24 bottles and normally costs between 11 and 12 euros at Albert Heijn which means one bottle costs about 50 eurocents, with discount only 29 eurocents. In bars in The Netherlands, where the legal drinking age is 16, a glass of beer in a bar costs about two euros, four times as much as in the supermarkets.
Well, it surely must be those evil pubcos then. It can't be anything else, can it? They may have been around since the Beer Orders (1989) effectively created them, but pubs have been closing for years, I'm constantly told.
UK Pub Closures 2004-2009Or ...
2004: 478Oh yeah. So they were! Apart from the 25% increase in pub stocks between 1971 and 2003, of course**.
I'm not sure the pubco tie effect can fully explain the massive leap in closures from 2007 onwards, though.
Why the huge pub failures in the UK but not in Holland? Why are theirs ticking along nicely and ours aren't? What on earth could be the over-riding factor?
As I drank a cool Heineken in the smoking room at Murphy's Bar, situated between gates D15 & D16 inside Amsterdam Schipol airport, I still hadn't worked it out.
Perhaps Gillian Merron may have a decent explanation.
**All sources: BBPA Statistical Handbooks, not available online.