I hadn’t set foot in Paris for decades. I just stayed there for three weeks. The contrast between the Paris of today and that of a few years ago is stunning. It is full of lessons for other cities, including Montreal and Quebec.
Paris remains one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Everywhere, I was very well received. Nothing that justifies the unpleasant reputation that some criticize Parisians for.
Services at the airport are well organized and efficient. Those in the city work well. And even though I was in France at the time of the demonstrations in the suburbs, life in Paris itself was very little affected by them.
The problem is that Paris is so invaded by the cancer of overtourism that it is becoming in its central districts another Venice, a zombie city, with very few local inhabitants.
In 2013, 29 million tourists visited Paris. In 2023, they will be 44 million. However, Paris has just over 2 million inhabitants.
Parisians are dispossessed of their city center. The same phenomenon is happening in other cities.
The result of this overtourism is distressing. Tourist businesses abound in the central districts. One of the worst places is probably around Beaubourg.
The pedestrianization of several streets has led to the death of local businesses and has greatly contributed to the exodus of residents. The main metro lines are packed with people at all times of the day. Bistro menus display almost all the same tourist dishes: snails, Caesar salad and hamburgers. The Seine has become a highway for riverboats.
Several large squares are disfigured by kiosks selling things for tourists. The forecourt of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris is disfigured by a huge stage for shows. The daily management of the crowds it entails makes the surrounding streets unlivable.
Of course, apartments for tourist rental abound, which, as in many other cities, reduces the stock of available accommodation and therefore drives Parisians out of their city.
And the authorities of Paris announce, with a stupid pride, that the number of tourists will still increase by several million in the next years.
Montreal and Quebec should learn from this mismanagement of tourism. For example, pedestrian streets tend to drive local businesses and residents away from their surroundings. For the well-being of the residents, it would be better not to implant them.
With 10 million tourists per year for 1.8 million inhabitants in Montreal and nearly 5 million tourists per year for 550,000 inhabitants in Quebec, is it not time to stop actively promoting tourism in these two cities? Other industries that are less disruptive, less polluting and more respectful of local inhabitants should be supported there.