Not Declaring War on Terrorism, But Now Declaring War on TOURISM
It’s a sad day when a Paris museum can’t survive and we have the November terrorist attacks to thank for that. The Pinacothèque, a privately owned art museum, announced its closing as of this past Monday due to the loss of visitors since November. It opened in 2007 in two different spaces at Place de la Madeleine with works loaned from other museums and private collections.
The current exhibition of photographs by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was set to run until the end of March, but ended prematurely. This was a museum I personally visited often — in fact, last year’s Gustav Klimt and the Vienna Secession exhibition attracted nearly 400,000 visitors — I was among them.
The boutique at the Pinacothèque was always among the city’s best museum shops. Now’s your chance to cash in on 50% discounts on everything in the boutique…if nothing else.
Museum attendance is down in Paris due to the November attacks. Le Louvre reported a 7% drop in visitors, but they can survive it more easily. Competition with state-owned museums is tough because they pay no rent or Value Added Tax (VAT) on their ticket sales. For this reason, privately run museums are rare in France as they lack the benefits afforded state-owned institutions.
Tourism is down across the board in Paris and it’s hurting everyone. That hasn’t stopped Madame le Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo from her campaign to ferret out ‘illegal’ short-term tourist apartment accommodations and frighten away even more tourists. I received a letter this week from one of our regular Paris visitors and rental clients: “I would not want to come to Paris as a short-term renter and be followed around by the rental ‘police.'”
In an Op Ed letter by Carsten Sprotte this month titled “Mayor of Paris Declares War on Tourism,” he outlines the negative effects of the ill-conceived strategy in an effort to recuperate long-term housing — which in itself is an honorable goal, but not at the expense of others. Have a read:
After the recent terrorist attacks that already dealt a serious blow to tourism, the city is preparing its coup fatal. No, this is not to be mistaken with the War on Terrorism. That was for George Bush. This one is from Mayor Anne Hidalgo. She has enlisted special agents to conduct raids targeting those who benefit from short-term rentals. It’s not that she is opposed to tourists, not any more than Bush was opposed to Iraqis, but she is very concerned about Parisian apartments being rented by tourists instead of of middle-class Parisians. As all raids in this age of sophisticated warfare, there are the intended targets and the collateral damages. In this case, the owners of the apartments for rent are the “enemy,” and the tourists suffer the collateral damages.
Listen to the testimony of 90 year-old Nancy A. from New Jersey, who was spending six weeks in a studio on rue Saint-André des Arts, in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, an area beloved by Americans. The raid occurred at her apartment on January 27, 2016.
“They knocked on the door just before 9 a.m. I was still sleeping. My daughter opened the door. There were two agents — one to interrogate and one to translate. They hammered us with repeated questions: ‘Who gave you the keys?’ Did you pay rent for this apartment? To whom did you pay rent? How long are you staying?’ We felt terribly uncomfortable having to decide whether to reveal information that would cause trouble for others, or conceal the information not knowing what kind of police we were dealing with.”
A surprise interrogation from grim authorities while you’re having your morning coffee and croissant is not what the typical tourist dreams of when deciding to visit Paris. While the city draws in about 30 million visitors per year, its measures could very well dampen the movable feast. In reality, despite the economic backlash of such measures, it will indeed be necessary to decrease the number of visitors simply because there are not enough hotel rooms. Paris hotels are already running at 90% capacity, and building new hotels would…well, take away housing from Parisians permanently.
One might wonder why even more vicious techniques have not yet been adopted. For example, in 2015 France’s General Assembly voted a law to prosecute the clients of prostitutes, instead of the prostitutes themselves. That could be applied to tourists as well, and would scare them off by the masses. These days in Paris, and despite the legislation, prostitution is clearly of far less interest to the media and to local authorities. It’s a booming business, and from a legal and social standpoint, you’re better off a prostitute than the owner of a short-term rental apartment. It’s highly unlikely that your Parisian neighbor would denounce you for prostitution….but for renting your apartment? Oh yes.
Using police tactics to eradicate illegal rentals makes one wonder if such investigative resources would not be better invested elsewhere — to fight against violent crime and theft, for example. A couple of months ago in Paris, a 57-year old man was finally arrested after having raped three women (real-estate agents, ironically) using the exact same methods over a three-year period. It took the police a year to arrest him after his third rape. How much time will it take to convict him? Meanwhile, the raids on illegal rentals continue, financed by some other government coffer (not the one used to investigate crime).
Ultimately, Hidalgo is bound to win the War on Tourism. As investors flee the country because their property rights have been violated, and as the local economy becomes deprived of a billion euros per year that would have been spent had there been short-term apartments available to visitors, the overall impact will be local impoverishment. Middle-class Parisians still won’t be able to purchase apartments because their incomes will stagnate, and some will lose their jobs (those who work in the short-term rental business for sure, and many of those who work in tourism-related jobs). Apartments will remain vacant, and dilapidated ones will remain so, since there will no longer be any owners able to invest in renovation. Sadly Mayor Hidalgo will not remain in office long enough to witness the long-term effects of her policy of impoverishment. Paris will lose its sparkle, and tourists will dream of other places. Call it a War of Attrition.
A dyed-in-the-wool hawk would never of course believe there is an alternative to war in this world of good guys and bad guys. In the case of Parisian tourism, it is remarkable to consider how that encouraging more tourism (and short-term rentals) might even better the lives of middle-class Parisians. For one, the economic influx creates a considerable tax base from which can be extracted investment resources for subsidized housing. More importantly, the greater the overall economic activity, the better chances there will be for people to get jobs in Paris and earn enough income to live in the city. Some of them (maybe even the bureaucrats) will even supplement their income by renting out their own apartments on Airbnb.
Paris could remain an open city instead of becoming a police state, and become a beacon of peace in this world of war.
If you agree with Carsten Sprotte, then help us by signing our petition: “Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Paris France: Amend the Paris short-term rental laws and make them fair for all.”
Join me for a Sunday Lunch at Chef Susan Herrmann Loomis’ 15th-Century Home in Normandy – On Rue Tatin — on March 6, 2016! If you missed the notice for the lunch at the top of this newsletter, you’ll find all the details on our Lunch on Rue Tatin page.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. We’re filming another House Hunters International episode the next few days! And then Monday I’m headed to Nice for a week at Carnaval. Stay tuned for lots of news from the filming and the festival!