The Dutch city of Arnhem — known as Bitcoinstad or “Bitcoin City” — has quickly gained a reputation as one of the most Bitcoin-friendly places with the highest density of Bitcoin merchants in the world. Its recent addition of Burger King as its 100th merchant underscores the local community’s incessant efforts to not only fully accommodate Bitcoin users, but also help other places such as Ghent (Belgium) replicate their success.
Btcoin.com spoke in depth with the co-founder of the Bitcoin City Arnhem project, Patrick van der Meijde, about its merchant milestone, future plans, and whether the municipality is better positioned to weather another global financial storm in comparison to other places that solely rely on the traditional financial system.
Arnhem: Bitcoin City
Bitcoin.com (BC): First, congratulations on your 100th merchant. Why did Burger King decide to accept bitcoin payments now?
Patrick van der Meijde (PM): This Burger King has recently switched from owner and the new owner (a franchisee, who does not live in Arnhem) heard about our Bitcoin project from a family member, who is positive about Bitcoin and told him about Arnhem Bitcoinstad. He decided to contact us and we made an appointment. Of course he needed to talk about it with Burger King Netherlands and we even had contact with Burger King Europe (EMEA) but eventually we got a green light.
BC: Do you think Burger King will expand their acceptance of BTC to other stores depending on how it does in Arnhem or is this just a localization strategy similar to SPAR supermarket?
PM: The owner of the Burger King in Arnhem owns multiple Burger Kings throughout our country. So it is very possible that other Burger Kings in the Netherlands will accept bitcoin sooner or later. It will surely help if it would become a success in Arnhem. As for Burger King outside of the Netherlands, I don’t think they will be accepting Bitcoin anytime soon. But then again; 2 years ago I would not have believed that Burger King Arnhem would accept bitcoins today so…
People tend to ask questions when they see people pay with bitcoin before them.
BC: Has the merchant recruitment process gotten easier as more and more business have signed up?
PM: Definitely yes. In fact, we don’t focus so much anymore on getting new merchants. Our main problem is that there are simply not enough users who use bitcoin frequently. Some people tend to “save” bitcoins and are not so willing to spend them while they could just as easily keep their savings and buy a few extra bitcoins once in a while to stimulate the bitcoin economy. It would really help projects like ours and Bitcoin in general. People tend to ask questions when they see people pay with bitcoin before them.
BC: Looking at your statistics, it seems sales in bitcoin are slow during the summer and spike in the fall, especially November. How would you interpret this data?
PM: I’d say the numbers of our statistics are still too small to make any conclusions. The November 2014 spike is because we held a Bbitcoin event, which attracted a large number of users from all over our country and beyond. And the November 2015 spike is probably because of a national television broadcast that featured Arnhem Bitcoinstad on the 1st of November. We hope that the increased number of transactions since then will continue to grow.
We already have a citizen who pays for his rent in bitcoin […] it gets quite hard to name things that cannot be paid in bitcoins over here.
BC: Your 100 merchants cover all types of products and services. Could a person live in Arnhem strictly on Bitcoin at this point? What is missing?
PM: For some reason we still don’t have a pizzerias, so if you consider that a bare necessity you are gonna have a hard time here (although you could easily order it online and pay with bitcoin) otherwise you will be just fine. I’m not really sure what else is missing. Maybe bicycle rental for tourists, or even better: public transport, but that will take a while i guess. We already have a citizen who pays for his rent in bitcoin, so yeah it gets quite hard to name things that cannot be paid in bitcoins over here.
BC: What types of businesses have seen the most Bitcoin sales?
PM: There are quite a few shops that didn’t have any transaction at all. Especially fashion shops aimed at women are not doing so great. This can also be because most of them are not in the city center but in Arnhem’s Fashion Quarter, which apparently attracts fewer bitcoin visitors than the city center.
People will be more open [in Arnhem] for the alternative bitcoin provides. Especially since they are already familiar with it and know that it is working very well.
The gas station, the SPAR, and Mimint (a health-food grocery store) have multiple bitcoin transactions per week or day. If you look at the revenue then you see that shops that sell higher priced items (like an electronic shop and bicycle shop) are also responsible for a fair amount of the total turnover, although they only have had a few transactions per year.
BC: Has this affected what merchants you try to recruit?
PM: Not really. If you don’t tryout some shops you will never really know if they will become popular for Bitcoin users. And you can’t have enough restaurants as anyone would like to go to a different restaurant once in a while. We do try to get the nicer shops aboard.
BC: Besides Arnhem, other “Bitcoin cities” and “Bitcoin streets” such as Ghent and Calle Bitcoin in Madrid have sprung up. Do you collaborate with these projects as well? What type of help do you provide, and vice versa?
PM: Yes, and we do hope more of these initiatives show up! We have very good contact with the team from Ghent and Ypres (both Belgium) and one of the guys from Calle Madrid helped us with the Spanish translation of BitKassa. We were at the opening of Ghent Bitcoin City and we were there when they organized a meeting for merchants in Ghent to educate them on Bitcoin. And of course, any merchant within the Euro Zone can use BitKassa for free.
BC: In the event of another financial crisis, do you think Arnhem can weather the storm better than most other cities in the Netherlands and beyond by having an alternative payment system already in place?
PM: Arnhem will probably be just as hurt as any other city at the next financial crisis, but yeah, I do think people will be more open for the alternative bitcoin provides. Especially since they are already familiar with it and know that it is working very well. So I do think bitcoin will be taken far more serious here than in other cities, but to say Arnhem is already more robust would probably not be true.
The biggest church in Arnhem (called the Eusebius) has contacted us and we will talk to them soon.
BC: What merchants are you planning to add next?
PM: The biggest church in Arnhem (called the Eusebius) has contacted us and we will talk to them soon. The church is no longer in use for religious purposes but it provides a great tourists attraction as you can get to the top in a glass elevator. At the top, you’ll have a beautiful view over the city. It is also being used for seminars and events of all sorts of subjects. And they frequently have an exhibition about WWII, in which (unfortunately) Arnhem had a prominent role.
BC: Do you have any special events or partnerships in the works?
PM: Yes, we are working on an event on May 28th. It will probably be called “Bitcoin In Use,” and one of the themes will be the 0-confirmation side of Bitcoin. We are contacting interesting speakers. It will be the ultimate chance to visit Arnhem Bitcoin City and meet a lot of other Bitcoin enthusiasts. And we will not be asking hundreds of euros for a ticket, in fact, the evening program will be free, so keep this date free in your agenda and we’ll keep you posted.
BC: Anything else you would like to add?
PM: We had a very nice Bitcoin meet-up at the Burger King and even four girls from Korea showed up. One of them made the first payment at the Burger King.
Would you be interested in visiting Arnhem? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of Arnhem Bitcoinstad