Mass tourism confuses residents of Paris, France
Every day on Boulevard Saint Michel, near Notre-Dame Cathedral in the heart of the Latin Quarter of Paris, buses unload thousands of tourists. Armed with selfie sticks, they obstruct traffic and jostle with locals trying to get their lives back on track.
“Saint Michael is a typical place for tourists and some evenings it gets really tough,” said Arnaldo Gomes, a 70-year-old building superintendent who has lived in the area since 1974. “There are so many groups and they can be very noisy and even dirty. “
Parisians are used to tourists, but mass tourism – where groups travel in packs – is starting to annoy the inhabitants of the City of Love, especially around monuments such as Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Musée du Louvre. Although the reaction against these tourists is nowhere near as severe as in Venice and Barcelona, many residents of the French capital are calling on the local government to better manage the flows.
France, which remains the number one tourist destination in the world, is targeting 100 million visitors in 2020, against 89.3 million in 2018. Paris receives around 25 million tourists per year – more than 10 times the city’s population – placing it just behind Bangkok and London in world rankings. The city drew 83 million euros (NZ $ 137 million) last year in direct “tourist tax” revenue. About 500,000 jobs are directly or indirectly linked to tourism, or 9.3% of the city’s salaried workforce.
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In May, the Louvre, home to the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, closed its doors after staff and security guards went on strike, saying they couldn’t handle the “stifling” crowds. It reopened after the museum proposed a mandatory reservations system and promised to hire more staff and stagger renovation projects.
In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper published on July 2, Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris and alderman in charge of tourism, acknowledged the growing local hostility, calling it into question the “totally anarchic” way in which the large tourist buses are making their mark around Paris and the inflation of rents induced by colocation companies like Airbnb.
While Parisians have voiced their concerns less than residents of Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam, officials are starting to admit they need to act.
“There is no ‘overtourism’ in Paris per se, but there is a problem with so-called group tourism, the kind that irritates Parisians,” said Jean-François Martins, another deputy mayor, in an interview. “This is when tourists travel in packs and find themselves in the same emblematic places, overcrowding them at the same time, such as the Eiffel Tower, certain museums and churches.”
The city does not expect a significant increase in visitor numbers in the coming years, with the exception of specific events like the 2024 Summer Olympics, Martins said.
“We have always aimed for sustainable growth in the number of tourists of around 1% to 2% per year,” he said. Tourism in Paris accelerated briefly when China opened up, but “it never increased like in Amsterdam, Venice or Barcelona,” he said.
In Barcelona and Venice, mass tourism has aroused the anger of local populations exasperated by the growing crowds that have driven up the prices of food and rentals and threaten a way of life. In Venice and Amsterdam, authorities have opted for higher tourist taxes to help curb tourism.
Unlike these other cities, the monuments of Paris are scattered, which makes a large number of visitors more manageable, said Véronique Potelet, spokesperson for the Paris tourist office.
“The Parisian territory is compact but the attractions and interesting sites are spread over many sparsely populated areas, so it’s less of a problem,” said Potelet.
For example, the Eiffel Tower, which attracts an average of 6 million visitors per year, is located in a district with wide open spaces. The number of visitors has remained largely stable over the past 10 years, said Victoria Klahr, spokesperson for the Eiffel Tower Operating Company.
Paris receives on average about 300,000 tourists per day, against the 2.5 million people who live in or pass through the city each day, which makes Martins say that “Paris is a dense city which lives very well with its density”. Still, he admits that large tour groups create problems.
Double-decker tourist buses, for example, have become a source of annoyance for Parisians facing bottlenecks amid the work to open cycle lanes and widen sidewalks on some boulevards. A recent accident in which a man was run over to death by one of these buses in the posh 7th arrondissement has sparked outrage. Since June, the Paris police have counted 219 offenses related to tourist buses, according to the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.
The mayor of Paris showed this month that it took note of the discontent, nine months before the municipal elections.
“We do not want tourist buses to circulate in a completely anarchic manner in Paris,” said Grégoire in the interview with Le Parisien. “Buses are no longer welcome in the city center.”
From September, double-decker buses will be subject to restrictions. In 2022, half of them will also have to be “clean”. Other tourist buses may have to park outside the city. The Paris tourist office is also working to direct visitors to other lesser-known attractions in the capital, in hopes of reducing crowds.
In Saint Michel, Gomes begins to see the impact. “They cross the Seine, go elsewhere,” he said. “They now pass faster than before.”