Could ‘Paris Syndrome’ spread to your destination?

Peak season in Paris

Excitement turns to disappointment when cities fill with tourists, making local people angry and visitors look for someplace else.

Peak season in Paris

This is the first of three posts which will deal with the consequences of tourist overcrowding in cities and what can be done about it.

“Headaches, palpitations, depression and suicidal thoughts”. Those were some of the symptoms doctors identified in the early 2000s among visitors to Paris – in particular Japanese – who were overcome with disappointment to find that their experience of the French capital didn’t meet with their dreams. The problem became so serious that in 2004 the Japanese Embassy in Paris set up a special helpline to support disappointed visitors through episodes of what became labelled as ‘Paris Syndrome’. That was over a decade ago. With armed soldiers now patrolling a city on edge, and some of the major monuments looking pretty tarnished, how would those Japanese visitors cope today?

Last week I was in Paris and happened to visit two of the city’s most popular tourism hotspots: the area around the base of the Eiffel Tower and the steps in front of the Sacré Coeur. Despite the latest reports suggesting that tourism arrivals in Paris have declined this summer as a result of recent terrorist attacks, this was still high season in the city and tourists were everywhere. The experience didn’t quite provoke Paris syndrome, but it came close. While roaming soldiers has become a sad but perhaps inevitable side to life in Paris, it wasn’t the only thing that punctured the romantic atmosphere.

No filter: one of the Sacré Coeur fountains mid-Augusts

No filter: one of the Sacré Coeur fountains, one morning, mid-August

The area at the foot of the Eiffel Tower had become a large dustbowl (it had lost its normally tidy grass since giant screens were placed there to show the Euro 2016 football in June) and was crowded with tourists waving selfie sticks while illegal hawkers pestered anyone and everyone non-stop as they tried to sell souvenirs and alcohol. The following morning the steps of the Sacré Coeur in the morning were more serene, but rubbish floated in the fountains, and hawkers and pickpockets circled among the crowds.

Where’s the breaking point?

The problems affecting Paris are certainly not unique to Paris, as many other popular tourist hubs around Europe are starting to discover. In fact, the residents of Paris have probably become used to the rising tide of tourism more than most (that’s not to say they like it). So while these problems are not new, there are a number of factors which are causing this problem to become more urgent:

Firstly, overall, international tourism arrivals are increasing. In fact, the UNWTO’s long term forecast to 2030 suggests that from now until 2030, an average of 43 million additional trips will be made each year. If some of the world’s tourist attractions are already at saturation point, what’s going to happen when these new tourists join the back of the queue and find they can’t get a ticket?

Secondly, city tourism bureaux used to be able to maintain some degree of control over tourist numbers by limiting hotel licences. In this way, a city could only accommodate the number of tourists that its hotels allowed. Tourists also used to hang out in the city centres or cluster around the main attractions. Of course this has evaporated as peer-to-peer rentals through platforms such as Airbnb have allowed tourists to stay above, below and to each side of local residents in private apartments, and increasing numbers of tourists seek to see their chosen destination through the eyes of a local, albeit with a leisure traveller’s frame of mind.

Finally, there’s ‘the sheer hell of other people’. When Jean Paul Sartre wrote in in his 1944 play ‘Huis Clos’ that “Hell is other people” I don’t think he was referring to drunken tourists (however it is possible). Nevertheless, this is the way that many residents of European cities have started to feel about the spaces in which they live, and their daily encounters with tourists who are going to more extreme lengths to generate fame online by doing dumb things. Examples include the Italian tourists who ran naked through the streets of Barcelona, or the increasing numbers of tourists who are jumping into Venice’s Grand Canal. In fact, Barcelona and Venice –both popular with weekend city break and cruise ship visitors – have both featured in the international press and the resulting coverage has arguably damaged each destination’s brand promise. However lots of cities have to deal with tourists behaving normally or badly, while trying to keep the peace between visitors and locals.

I’ll discuss this complex situation in more detail in my next post.

In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @genctraveller

OUT NOW: ‘Stepping Out of the Crowd’ – Where the Next Generation of Asian Millennials is Heading

Stepping Out of the Crowd (PATA, 2016)

Winning a place on the travel itinerary of time-poor but experience-hungry generation of travellers from Asia’s emerging outbound markets will require clever marketing and well thought-out experiences that help them to quickly connect with local people and their traditions. When it comes to exploring new destinations, quick access to new foods, cultural immersion and local youth culture make a strong draw for Asian Millennials to ‘step out of the crowd’ and go off the beaten track.

These are just a few of the conclusions from a comprehensive new report just released by the Pacific Asia Travel Association in partnership with Visa Worldwide and Toposophy.Stepping Out of the Crowd (PATA, 2016)

Encouraging visitors to leave crowded hotspots and go in search of more enriching experiences has never been more important for destinations looking to capitalise on the rising tide of visitors from Asia’s emerging outbound markets. However putting this into practice is not so simple, especially when first-time visitors might not even know what else is available in the local area.

Finding ways to deal with crowds and helping visitors to explore further by themselves is putting destination management organisations (DMOs) seriously to the test. It requires a high degree of coordination with a range of stakeholders, the ability to develop an attractive product in new destinations and put in place the infrastructure to help visitors to get there and stay for a while. Following this, DMOs have to use their creative flair to raise awareness of alternative options, and then give people compelling reasons to visit.

Stepping Out of the Crowd is the second in PATA’s series of youth travel reports, and follows The Rise of the Young Asian Traveller which I authored in 2014. This new report covers the whole range of complex questions related to Asian Millennial traveller trends and tourism dispersal in a 150-page report that draws on unique consumer research carried out among 13 Asian outbound markets, expert opinion, case studies from leading travel brands and data from PATA’s own forecasts on cross-border travel. It also gives practical recommendations on where to start when putting a dispersal strategy in place.

Main features of the report:

  • Unique consumer research from Millennials in 13 outbound markets across Asia on their attitudes towards trip planning, city visits and going ‘off the beaten track’.
  • Data from the PATA five-year forecast to show how international arrival arrivals will affect APAC destinations in the coming years
  • Data and opinion from 14 market-leading tourism organisations, travel brands and influencers (including VisitBritain, NBTC Holland Marketing, Eurail Group and Discover Los Angeles) on how to set out an effective dispersal strategy.
  • Recommendations to public and private sector organisations on how to create more effective and rewarding products that encourage dispersal for Asian Millennial travellers.

How to get the report:

Full report – PATA Store (free for PATA members, US$100 for non-members)

Executive Summary (free download)

The project research for it was generously sponsored by Visa Worldwide and since TOPOSOPHY was the project’s research partner, my talented colleagues supported me with their inputs too, for which I am extremely grateful.

The bigger picture

Working on this groundbreaking project has taught me how the best DMOs are already hard at work to encourage dispersal, and to spread visitor spending as widely as possible – even in developing countries which find it hard to meet the needs of local residents, let alone demanding visitors. Yet in the end, dispersal is everyone’s business, as I explain in my recent TOPOSOPHY blog post.

This project has also shown in a variety of ways how much harder the tourism sector globally needs to work on this question. As far as tourism arrivals from Asia to Europe go, we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Other regions of the world are emerging rapidly as key outbound markets, on top of all those travellers from advanced economies who travel several times per year with the same big attractions on their bucket lists.

I hope that this report will help tourism boards and travel brands of all kinds to kick-start their approach to making tourism dispersal work for all, before it’s too late.


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VisitBritain launches innovative campaign in China

Great Names for Great Britain

Last week VisitBritain embarked on the latest stage of its campaign to attract more Chinese visitors to the UK using images of the country to open potential visitors’ eyes as to what they can find when they arrive in the country.

Many UK places, people, things and attractions still don’t have a Chinese name yet. Some already do, for example Great Names for Great Britain‘The Beatles – Pi Tou Shi 披头士 meaning ‘Gentlemen with long hair’ or Buckingham Palace – ‘Bai Jin Han Gong 白金汉宫 or ‘a white, gold and splendid palace’. Launched via VisitBritain’s social media platforms in China, this ‘GREAT names for GREAT Britain‘ campaign asks people across China to invent names for 101 iconic British things, with prizes for the suggestions that prove most popular.

Earlier this year when I compiled the study The Rise of the Young Asian Traveller for the Pacific Asia Travel Association, the UK didn’t even enter the top 10 on the destination wishlist of young Chinese respondents to our survey. This suggests unfamiliarity with what the UK has to offer, something which this campaign is clearly set up to change.

Check out the video which explains how some Chinese participants reacted when they saw some images of the UK for the first time:


While Chinese arrivals in Britain grew by 10% between 2012 and 2013 (and spending was up a whopping 64%), the UK still only received 12% of the number of Chinese arrivals that France did in the same year. In Europe, Britain trails behind Austria, Italy and Switzerland in the number of Chinese visitors it receives, largely because of the extra cost and complication of applying for a UK visa as opposed to a Schengen visa which gives access to all countries within the Schengen zone.

While Chinese visitor numbers are clearly not at the levels they could be, in some way the visa situation encourages those Chinese visitors that do make the trip to spend longer in the country and make more visits outside of London than other visitors (especially from Asia) typically do.

The UK government has received sustained criticism from major businesses such as airlines and retailers who are worried that the country is seriously lagging behind neighbouring competitors in terms of visa issuance. Recently the government announced the introduction of a super priority visa that, in exchange for 600 GBP could be issued within 48 hours. The UK government is also reportedly looking for ways for other EU member states to accept UK visa applications at the same time as their own Schengen applications, simplifying the process for potential visitors. The campaign is also being launched in cooperation with the UK immigration authorities who will use the opportunity to explain the revised application procedures to potential visa applicants.

My take on the campaign:

The £1.6m 10-week long campaign is VisitBritain’s largest ever campaign in China. Upon a first glance it seems set to be a promising campaign for the following reasons:

  • It introduces a large numbers of attractions, places, people and British things to a new Chinese audience in one go.
  • It is social-media based, using Chinese social media platforms (you’d be mad not to use these tools when launching a major ad campaign in China today). This increases reach cheaply and effectively.
  • It encourages dispersal outside of the capital. London’s icons are always first to come to mind by visitors who don’t know the UK so well, so that’s why many visitors aren’t brave enough to venture outside of the M25. By showing that visiting Britain consists of much more than seeing Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, Chinese spending is more effectively spread around the country (though this process involves much time and education). It’s also worth noting that many studies show that locations that are outdoors with fresh air and beautiful landscapes are rapidly becoming popular among Chinese outbound travellers eager to escape overcrowding and pollution in their home cities.


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