Paris Theme Park
Europe essentially remains in the doldrums, and the French economy begins to look more like Italy’s or Spain’s and less like Germany’s, while the Germans feel the drag of the rest of the region. The various Eurozone governments talk about increasing spending and lowering taxes after a bout of raising taxes and lowering spending. And of course, interest rates stay low to facilitate any chance of sustaining even tepid growth.
France begins to wake up to reality—propping up the pension state is a tall order even if the economy ever can get untracked—an open question. Locals in Paris (where I recently visited) despair of the lack of high paying financial and tech sector jobs and burdensome tax rates. If you think college grads are having a hard time cracking into the work force in the U.S., French 20-somethings face a brick wall. “Everybody is going to London,” explains a friend, just returned from visiting her sister who has relocated across the English Channel—not that the UK economy is anything to crow about either.
But France has something going for it—and Paris in particular. It’s a major tourist destination. You know, the food, the wine, the City of Lights, romance, that ooh la la. It’s hard to pin down the exact number, but somewhere between 25 million and 30 million tourists visit Paris annually. Even in the February chill, people from all over (and so many American voices) queued up at the familiar attractions—the Orsay, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower (of course), and at the Louvre. I have never seen a museum corridor more mobbed than the one funneling the hordes crowding to view the Mona Lisa. Over the past number of decades I have regularly visited Mona and she always draws a gathering, but this was over the top and she has been around for nearly 600 years.
With Paris the major calling card, France rates as the number one foreign tourist destination in the world, and that generates a lot of business. The bartender at my hotel was certainly content. Waiters, airport workers, front desk clerks, maids, tour promoters, museum guards, and anyone touching the tourist industry enjoys relative job security. The New York Soho effect—international boutique brands pushing out Mom and Pop stores—is alive and well in the Marais Jewish quarter too, while McDonalds stands out (like a sore thumb) along the Champs Elysees. Paris has even added a gigantic-lighted portable ferris wheel (like London’s, Chicago’s and just about everywhere else’s-- Staten Island too) outside the Tuileries marring the Arc de Triomphe-Louvre Pyramid axis. As if Paris needs something to appeal to low brow tourist tastes.
Still a business center and world capital, Paris maybe morphing by necessity into more of an adult Disney like destination dependent on hotel, restaurant, and site seeing business mostly from the global elites who can afford to enjoy the scene, munch on a baguette and sip an expresso. But is that the future of one of the world’s greatest cities—maintaining itself as a tourist magnet, because that’s all that will be left?
For an irreverent take on the macroeconomic environment, check out GlobeSt.com's Chief Economist authored by Dr. Sam Chandan.