Monuments in danger
The year 2013 saw some of the traditional clientele of palaces change their attitude toward them.
By Georges Panayotis, President & CEO - MKG Group
Companies are increasingly reticent about authorizing their managers, even their highest officers, to stay at properties that are discordant with the notion of saving on overhead. Ostentatious luxury is no longer seen as a sign of success but as a kind of arrogance that is less and less acceptable. Former president Sarkozy's celebration of victory in a famous Champs-Elysées venue remains ingrained in memories as in poor taste, casting a shadow on the image of palaces in public opinion.
boomers besotted with a certain art de vivre, and old European fortunes no longer identify with the price/pleasure equation that once justified their presence. Several recent reports show the behavior of Middle Eastern clientele, the peculiarities of rich Chinese guests and the arrogance of Russian businessmen and their escorts all in a bad light. Thus, the "former guests" are seeking refuge in upscale hotels that befit their image better. The multiplication of boutique hotels, with their more discrete charm, more remarkable personality, offers an alternative to these clients who seek a personal relationship, a more "Parisian" ambiance, infused with bohemian culture and contemporary design, security and discretion.
Gradually, the center of gravity of Paris's luxury hotel segment is sliding toward RiveGauche and Saint-Germain. On the Right Bank, the trend may be observed around the historic heart of the capital, between Place Vendôme, the Elysée and Avenue Montaigne. Luxury boutiques follow in their wake as they too undertake a geographic relocation. Once celebrated for its splendor, its shops and its charm, the Triangle d'Or bordering the Champs-Elysées now conveys an image of violence and insecurity. However, resting on one's laurels alongside Avenue George V when the neighborhood loses its dynamism is not a long-term solution. And repurposing as a luxury florist cannot mask the trend to tawdry. In addition, recent openings on the fringes of shopping districts beyond the Arc de Triomphe, are having trouble establishing their legitimacy. It is impossible to improvise Premium location when the environment doesn't lend itself to it.
The warning level has not yet been reached as Paris's palaces take advantage of awindfall effect due to the closing of a few of its jewels for renovations. The transfer of clientele stimulates occupancy rates that have been under pressure for a few months. What will happen when the properties re-open one after the other between 2014 and 2016? Will hotels that did not want to invest in order to reinforce their exceptional character pay the price for their negligence? Tomorrow the "value for money" penalty risks being severe when prices two to three times those of boutique hotels are not offset by services. Bastions of prosperity during the dark years of the crisis, the luxury hotel segment has largely contributed to improving Paris's image and its average daily rates. But some closed in on themselves, fortresses of luxury they cut themselves off from much of the local clientele who felt rejected, while in other capitals, palaces maintained their real emotional bonds with the population. Why is it that while the Château de Versailles attracts millions of visitors and valorizes the French art de vivre, some Parisian palaces isolate themselves like protected islands with no real opening onto the city that shelters them? They need to revive their generosity to make these displays of elegance and refinement participate fully in the animation of the city.