Visitors are shunning Paris’ most expensive hotels as the Olympics loom

The Olympic rings adorn the Eiffel Tower in Paris. (Pierre Crom/Photographer: Pierre Crom/Getty )

(Bloomberg) -- Paris is proving to be a surprisingly unpopular destination for wealthy tourists ahead of the Olympics this summer, with visitors concerned about difficulties in navigating the city by car.

Demand for stays at high-end hotels in the French capital have collapsed before the Games, which kick off on July 26 and run until Aug. 11, according to UMIH Prestige, which represents hotels that charge at least €800 (US$865) a night for rooms.

Bookings for the last week of June and throughout most of July are down between 20 per cent and 50 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to the organization.

“In 24 years I’ve never seen this,” said Laurence Bloch, deputy general manager at the Plaza Athénée on Avenue Montaigne, where guests pay €2,500 or more for chic rooms a stone’s throw from Chanel and Christian Dior stores. Concerns about traffic after Paris built temporary Olympic installations has pushed occupancy as low as 15 per cent for some July dates, she said.

Security has also been tightened along the Seine River before the opening ceremony on July 26, threatening further traffic snarls.

“Paris is currently seeing a severe drop in demand for luxury hotel rooms in the run-up to the Games,” said Christophe Laure, head of UMIH Prestige, who said he expects the trend to improve after July 22.

Some visitors are opting out of Paris for now. “They’re instead picking the French Riviera or other cities such as London and will come to Paris at another moment,” Laure said.

The country is also in the midst of political upheaval following a second round of snap legislative elections which didn’t produce a clear majority.

President Emmanuel Macron, who dissolved France’s National Assembly and called the vote after his party was trounced in European Union elections last month, has yet to name a new prime minister following the inconclusive second round last weekend.

Still, tourists don’t appear to be put off by the political turmoil, and visitors aren’t citing it as a reason to pass on visiting Paris, Laure and Bloch said. Both expect business to recover sharply as the Games go on.

The Plaza Athénée, part of the Dorchester Collection, is showing occupancy rates of about 85 per cent from July 25 on, Bloch said, and corporate sponsors have booked half the rooms for most of the Games. With traffic banned in the area for part of opening-ceremony day, the hotel will rely on rickshaws to fetch arriving guests’ luggage, she said.

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