Every day on Boulevard Saint-Michel, near the Notre-Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris’s Latin Quarter, buses unload thousands of tourists. Armed with selfie sticks, they clog up traffic and jostle with locals trying to get on with their lives.
“Saint-Michel is a typical location for tourists and on some evenings it gets really hard,” said Arnaldo Gomes, a 70-year-old building superintendent who’s been living 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 move in packs — is beginning to annoy the residents of the City of Love, especially around landmarks like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre museum. Although the backlash against such tourists is nowhere near as severe as in Venice and Barcelona, many in the French capital are calling on the local government to better manage flows.
France, which remains the world’s top tourist destination, is targeting 100 million visitors in 2020, up from 89.3 million in 2018. Paris gets about 25 million tourists a 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 ($94 million) last year in direct revenue from the so-called “taxe de séjour.” About 500,000 jobs are directly or indirectly linked to tourism, or 9.3 percent of the city’s salaried workforce.
In May, the Louvre, home to the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, closed its doors after staff and security employees went on strike, saying they couldn’t handle the “suffocating” crowds. It reopened after the museum proposed a system of mandatory reservations and promised to hire more staff and spread out renovation projects.
In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper published on July 2, Emmanuel Gregoire, deputy mayor of Paris and the city official in charge of tourism, acknowledged the growing local hostility, blaming it on the “totally anarchic” manner in which large tourist buses make their way around Paris and rental inflation driven by apartment-sharing companies like Airbnb Inc.
While Parisians have been less vocal about their concerns than people in Venice, Barcelona, and Amsterdam, officials are beginning to concede they need to take action.
“There is no ‘overtourism’ in Paris per se, but there’s an issue with so-called group tourism, the sort that irritates the Parisians,” Jean-Francois Martins, another deputy mayor, said in an interview. “That’s when tourists travel in packs and end up in the same iconic places, overcrowding them at the same time, such as the Eiffel Tower, certain museums, and churches.”
The city doesn’t expect a significant jump in visitors in the coming years, except for specific events like the Olympic Games in the summer of 2024, Martins said.
“We’ve always targeted a sustainable growth in tourist numbers of around 1 percent to 2 percent a year,” he said. Tourism in Paris briefly accelerated when China opened up, but “it never grew the way it did in Amsterdam, Venice, or Barcelona,” he said.
In Barcelona and Venice, mass tourism has drawn anger from local populations exasperated by the ever-growing crowds that have pushed up food prices and rentals and threaten a way of life. In Venice and Amsterdam, authorities have opted for higher visitor taxes to help curb tourism.
Unlike those other cities, Paris’s landmarks are dispersed, making large numbers of visitors more manageable, said Véronique Potelet, a spokeswoman for the Paris Tourism board.
“The Parisian territory is compact yet attractions and interesting sites are spread across many districts that are not highly populated, so it’s less of a nuisance,” Potelet said.
For instance, the Eiffel Tower, which attracts on average 6 million visitors a year, is set in a neighborhood with large open spaces. The number of visitors has stayed largely stable over the past 10 years, Victoria Klahr, a spokeswoman for the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, said.
Paris on average gets around 300,000 tourists a day, against the 2.5 million people who live or pass through the city each day, prompting Martins to say that “Paris is a dense city that lives just fine with its density.” Still, he admits large tourists groups do create some issues.
Double-decker tourist buses, for instance, have become a source of annoyance for Parisians dealing with bottlenecks amid roadworks to open bike lanes and widen sidewalks on some boulevards. A recent accident in which a man was crushed to death by one of these buses in the swank 7th arrondissement sparked outrage. Since June, the Paris police have counted 219 infractions related to tourist buses, according to Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
The Paris town hall this month showed it’s taking note of the discontent, nine months ahead of municipal elections.
“We don’t want tourist buses plying in a totally anarchic way in Paris,” Gregoire said in the Parisien interview. “Buses are no longer welcome downtown.”
Starting September, double-decker buses will be subject to restrictions. In 2022, half of them will also have to be “clean.” Other tourist buses will eventually have to park outside the city. The Paris tourism board is also working on directing visitors to other, lesser known, attractions of the capital, hoping to thin out crowds.
At Saint-Michel, Gomes is starting to see the impact of that. “They cross the Seine river, go elsewhere,” he said. “They’re now passing by more quickly than before.”
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