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Analysis

Overtourism: divide and conquer? #1

Disruptions, incivility, depletion of resources and inhabitants, degradation of the visitor experience... tourism would, for some destinations, be a source of unrest felt too frequently by indigenous people. Between myth and reality, what are the real issues? What do the hotel activity figures say? What solutions have been provided? Hospitality ON is launching a series of analyses on this subject, which has been in the news since the beginning of the summer. Part One: Paris.

What the press and politicians are saying 

In February 2019, when record results for tourist arrivals were announced for the Île-de-France, Valérie Pécresse declared: "There is no overtourism in the Ile-de-France " [...] "On the contrary, our infrastructures are under-used. Destinations such as Vaux-le-Vicomte [Seine-et-Marne], Van Gogh's home in à Auvers-sur-Oise [Val-d’Oise] and Cocteau's home in Milly-la-Forêt [Essonne] are not sufficiently valorized. It's time to make a real effort."

Gaspard Gantzer, candidate for Mayor of Paris declared on RMC "I assume and defend the fact that I believe there is overtourism in Paris. The city is beginning to resemble Venice or the center of Rome, and its terrible. I don't want my city to be a postcard of Amélie Poulain."

As for Anne Hidalgo, the current Mayor of Paris, she remains silent regarding the subject that may well become central too the forthcoming municipal campaign.

The French government has announced the implementation of a work group to treat the problems of overtourism in the middle of the summer. It was called "Développement durable et tourisme" (Sustainable growth and tourism). It remains to be seen what themes will be discussed, who will be asked to participate and the orders that will be made by the government under the government under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

National and local papers, and professionals are many to cover the subject. Les Echos, Bloomberg, Le Parisien, televised news at prime time, 20minutes, France Inter... and many others have touched on the thorny question.

The facts

The employees working at the Eiffel Tower expressed their dissatisfaction with their working conditions due to the ever-increasing number of visitors who came to admire the Iron Lady. Restricted by the four elevators and stairs, management teams estimate that they have reached saturation point in terms of visitor absorption capacity year-round, meaning 7 million people.

At the end of May 2019, the Louvre remained closed following a staff strike saying that it was seeing "an unprecedented deterioration in visiting and working conditions". 

The fire at Notre Dame Cathedral caused many tourists to visit other emblematic Parisian monuments, resulting in unprecedented congestion.

Within the Louvre Museum, the renovation of the Salle des Etats, which housed the Mona Lisa, caused some inconvenience this summer. The masterpiece was moved pending the completion of the works in November 2019, but to a location that was not as well situated in terms of flow management because it was more directly accessible from the entrance to the museum.

The figures

This summer in France, according to the Observatory at MKG Consulting / OK_destination, hoteliers in the provinces benefited from the influx of tourists rather than Paris. Occupancy was down -1 percentage point in July and 1.3 points in August with respect to the same period in 2018. Hoteliers in the Paris region also showed a drop in occupancy by -2 percentage points in July and -1.3 points in August, according to estimations from MKG. Midscale and upscale hotels were the most affected, demonstrating that international clientele were less present at htoels (see performance trends for hoteliers in July for more details). One element that cannot be ignored is the shift of some clientele to other types of accommodations (sharing, hostels...).

In its Tourism Report for the first half of 2019 until August, the Ile-de-France region announces a drop in international arrivals (-42,000 visitors to 7.9 million international arrivals) that is not fully offset by the 30,000 increase in French visitors. 2019 nevertheless promises to be the second best year since 2010, as it approaches the record traffic recorded in 2018.

The yellow vest crisis, Brexit and uncertain weather are all factors that have impacted international arrivals in the City of Light and its surrounding areas. Since the beginning of the year, the destination has had a total of just over 2 million nights for British customers, which is 384,000 fewer than in 2018

The solutions?

The Louvre Museum completely refurbished the reception area under the pyramid between 2014 and 2016 in order to receive the influx of visitors in better conditions, but difficulties persist. The museum is trying to attract visitors to less popular collections, but how do you convince a first-time visitor not to visit the Mona Lisa?

Some cultural destinations, such as the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and, closer, the Eiffel Tower, regulate the flow of visitors by giving priority to advance ticket reservations or even limiting entry pre-booked ticket holders. The Louvre Museum is beginning to adopt this tool, albeit with a few hiccups in terms of communication with visitors, who are often surprised that they cannot access the site without a reserved ticket.

The Eiffel Tower has doubled its entrance fee and thereby financed its security works while launching a call to tender for the opening of 5 more shops by 2020, another way to boost the average spending of its visitors.

Nonetheless, while the problem concerns every site that has a high number of visitors, it would appear that the problem also needs to be managed by the destinations. 

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