Destination Paris: A Sleeping Beauty
May 23, 2014 10:45am
by Georges Panayotis
In the constant competition between tourist destinations, Paris enjoys a considerable advantage that is also dangerous: that of being at the top of the list of musts for travelers venturing outside their country for the first time. Regular tourism growth worldwide thus feeds the arrivals statistics for the French capital, while simultaneously hiding weaknesses that threaten its future.
While the influx of tourists from China, Brazil, Korea, Mexico and Central European countries offers reasons to rejoice, it would be unwise to be overjoyed. Once they have visited the main monuments by air-conditioned motor coach, quickly photographed the Mona Lisa and the Victory of Samothrace, gone to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower and taken the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe, filled their bags at the Grands Magasins and, in the case of the more affluent, waited in line at Louis Vuitton, Paris will be ticked off their bucket list and they will move on to the next "must".
And when will they return? Do we even know? Nothing is less certain, and why should they? Having seen it all and done it all, they would need to be convinced that a second trip is worth their while. Paris must not fall victim to the same syndrome as Prague, which was boosted in the 2000s by its novelty and a few successful films. Alas, the Czech capital did not successfully renew its tourist supply and the collapse was brutal once the wave of curiosity passed.
Paris is gradually changing, but the effect is not spectacular. Its major events increasingly address the local population which has appropriated the Nuit des musées, Fête de la musique, Nuit blanche, Paris Plages and even its Techno parade. At these events foreign visitors are more tolerated rather than truly welcomed. Thematic exhibitions at the Grand Palais already have trouble accommodating national visitors, making it difficult for the venue to act as a cultural attraction. The cosmopolitan French capital has been returned to its inhabitants and dangerously entered a kind of conformism. This lack of international fervor, except for a few fashion weeks and biannual trade fairs, gives more importance to its eternal rivals of London to the North and Rome to the South. Worse yet, the flavors, fragrances, colors that once conjured "Parisian charm" through its markets, bistrots, entertainment have fallen short, causing more and more explorers to head towards destinations more friendly to the "Generation Y" such as Barcelona or Berlin, whose more competitive prices create an even stronger draw.
Stong occupancy rates combined with the shortage of commercial accommodations has led to an excessive increase in hotel rates. While upscale properties financed real transformative renovations with hundreds of millions, the same cannot be said for the other categories that make guests pay a high price for sometimes cosmetic changes in many properties, rebranded into fashionable "boutique hotels". Let's be wary of a backlash as new alternatives offered by Internet emerge, and their marketing budgets are rising.
Has the City of Light lost its glow? This time, a quick makeover will not suffice. The ambition will have to be both bigger and more lasting. There are basic problems to be resolved regarding the cleanliness of the city, courtesy of taxi drivers, ease of connections, store hours ... Paris must not be just an item to be ticked off the list of destinations worldwide. Rather it needs to make itself a destination to return to regularly that is surprising for its perpetual movement. Desire must be worked at and justified by real innovations, by an animation that systematically integrates an international dimension and by greater concern for the security of visitors. Reports of aggressions and feelings of insecurity traveling to and from airports are catastrophic for the destination's image. A new team is at the helm of national and Parisian tourism. It appears to have taken this phenomenon to heart and understood the danger of dozing off. Now to make intentions become realities.
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Contact: Georges Panayotis, President & CEO
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