It’s a summery Saturday in Paris, and the French capital’s spellbinding architecture is baking in the 37-degree heat. As I schlep around the gentile Marais district, I pass empty boutiques glinting with impossibly delicate jewellery, their owners loitering outside chatting to friends. It’s a peaceful time of year; many Parisians have evacuated the city for the balmier temperatures by the coast.
That afternoon, I dip my toes in the cool water of the Louvre’s fizzing fountain and make return visits to reviving gelato parlours, before heading for Jardin d’Acclimatation – a sprawling park complex 8km northwest of the city centre.
At the park’s main gates, there is airport style security, complete with plastic trays and scanners. The same occurs at the at the Louis Vuitton Foundation art museum around the corner, my bag is scanned by a machine, and I’m asked to take my sunglasses off. Paris is taking no chances when it comes to safety. The atmosphere feels so benign that it’s almost surprising to see, until you remember what’s occurred here over the past eighteen months or so. Then, you understand this cautious approach.
With the perception that Paris is now suddenly a risky destination to visit, unfortunately, the city’s tourism industry has taken a hit. For example, Lena Le Goff, General Manager of the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World tells me hotel bookings from the Japanese market – normally a safe bet for Paris – were down 50% on the first quarter of this year compared to 2015. “The entire Parisian hotel market is down 11%, across all markets – and for the five-star market, it’s an average of 30%,” says Le Goff, “Generally the long-haul markets are the first to be affected. I think Paris suffered not only from the terrorist attacks we’ve had here, but also those that happened in Brussels in March. Then there was Nice….”
On the other hand, it seems business travellers have been largely undeterred by the attacks. People are still coming to Paris to work, and hotel bookings relating to business travel are experiencing an upward curve. “Business travel hotel bookings have actually gone up by 14% in the first quarter of the year, which gives a lot of hope,” says Le Goff.
Looking firmly forward, Paris is throwing itself into bidding to host the two largest global events – both the 2024 Olympics and Expo 2025. Bidding for just one of these is no mean feat, and it’s a testament to the city’s determination to enter a new chapter, and to show the world once again that it is open for visitors.
And for British business travellers, having either of these world events on our doorstep would potentially be extremely advantageous – be it due to investment opportunities or for entertaining international clients.
Paris’s €3.2 billion Olympic bid seems solid. Fending off competition from Budapest, Hamburg, Los Angeles and Rome with a theme of “The Power of Dreams”, its bid states that 95% of the Olympic infrastructure is already built, and the plan is to repurpose existing infrastructure and sports venues. There would be two “core zones” – the Paris Centre Zone and the Paris Saint-Denis Zone.
The northern district of Saint-Denis is one of many Parisian suburbs currently undergoing a facelift – Olympics or no Olympics. “There are a few areas in the north of Paris that are investing a lot to attract both French and international business,” said Nicholas Egloff, Director of Sales and Marketing at Small Luxury Hotels of the World property, Relais Christine Hotel. “Seine-Saint Denis – we call it Zone 93 – doesn’t have a good reputation, but it is close to the Stade de France and there are many company headquarters being built there. And Havas Worldwide, one of the world’s largest advertising companies, just opened up its headquarters in Pantin, in the northeast of Paris. So all these areas are being completely redone, and are developing a lot.”
Should France be chosen for Expo 2025, the nation would receive eight million visitors over six months, visiting sites in both Paris and its surrounding region. Other cities likely to bid for the event are Manchester, Osaka and Toronto, all known for their innovation and excellent facilities. But with its long history of hosting world fairs – the Eiffel Tower itself is a souvenir from the 1889 World Expo held here – Paris is an old hand at this.
Its plans include the redevelopment of Paris expo Porte de Versailles. Set 7km southwest of the city centre in Porte de Versailles, and currently the largest exhibition park in France, it was built for the 1900 World Expo. Its regeneration would transform it into “a model of sustainable development – a living space as much as a place of business.” Boasting a whopping seven pavilions for exhibitions, the current convention centre would also be transformed – judging by the renderings, it would do away with the current 1960s Brutalist structure, and replace it with a sleek undulating glass edifice. Impressively, despite the scale of the change, the plan is for the venue to continue to host events throughout the project.
Next September, Paris will find out whether its Olympic 2024 dreams will be realised, while a decision on Expo 2025 will follow in 2018. If the French capital is successful in either or both of its bids, it will signify a restored faith in Paris, and an exciting, hopeful new era for France.
Five Top Places For Meetings/Events
Louis Vuitton Foundation
A Frank Gehry creation, this eye-catching museum next to Jardin d’Acclimatation park is roughly modelled to look like a boat, with sweeping sections of curved glass mimicking billowing sails. There’s a stunning auditorium with a rainbow stripe feature wall, and the space has transparent sides offering views of the mesmerising waterfall feature that flanks the museum. fondationlouisvuitton.fr
Paris Expo Porte De Versailles
France’s largest venue for exhibitions is set in Paris’s southwestern Porte de Versailles district. It covers 227,000 sqm in total, and is usually the venue of choice for international trade shows. paris-expoportedeversailles.com
This dance academy’s elegant foyer and galleries look like something out of a Degas painting, with intricately carved wall panels and huge arched windows. elephantpaname.com
Carreau Du Temple
An atmospheric blank canvas, this repurposed covered market dates back to 1863. It can host cocktail receptions for 2,000 people. carreaudutemple.eu
Gustave Eiffel Room
Located on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, and featuring 6.8-metre-high floor-to-ceiling window walls on two sides, this smart space was renovated a couple of years ago. It can seat 130 people for dinner. toureiffel.paris
Planning on extending your business trip for a weekend in Paris? Here are some luxurious boltholes with plenty of privacy:
Le Pavillon De La Reine
A thick forest of ivy trails down the stone walls of this boutique hotel, in the upscale Le Marais district. You enter via a peaceful courtyard with seating, drenched with sunlight in the late afternoon, where you can sit with a glass of champagne from the honesty bar and listen in on the busking opera singer outside the hotel’s walls. The 54 rooms feature neutral boudoir-style decor, such as velvety fleur-de-lis wallpaper.
Grand Hotel Du Palais Royal
Situated minutes from the Louvre, this chic 68-room property in a former Royal Palace building is well set-up for business travellers, with friendly staff and a smart yet comfortable bar. Le Lulli restaurant opens up onto a cobbled courtyard, and is perfect for a drinks reception. Meanwhile, its airy Panoramic suite has a terrace with a coveted view of Paris’s gothic rooftops – and would also work well for an intimate product launch.
Hotel Du Petit Moulin
Housed in a converted 17th-century boulangerie that maintains its original facade, this quirky hotel has just 17 rooms, with décor by Christian Lacroix that blends thick wooden beams with neon green work desks. It’s set in Le Marais district, and will appeal to those with an eccentric streak.
Hotel Relais Christine
Set in a former relais building in the Latin Quarter – and home to two adorable cats - this property will complete its ongoing refurbishment in February, with an indoor pool and new spa offering Guerlain products. The 48 rooms are furnished with carefully chosen antique pieces and decadent wallpaper, creating a real sense of place.
If you’re passing through either of these areas of Paris, stop for food at:
Latin Quarter: L’Atlas
Although it’s known for its generous seafood platters and Moroccan dishes, it’s the location of this bustling eatery on Rue de Buci that makes it. Grab two outward-facing chairs on the terrace to see street performers and musicians competing for your attention. latlas.fr
Le Marais: Café De L’Industrie
Warm, vibrant and divided into two sections on opposite sides of Rue Saint Sabin, this excellent brasserie is a great place to sample French classics. I recommend the creamy potato gratin, and the tender steak tartare, which is served up with a selection of herbs and chives. cafedelindustrieparis.fr
1st Arrondissment: L'Espandon
Fresh from its reopening this summer – after a $200 million facelift – the Ritz’s Paris's signature restaurant is the epitome of elegance. Its refi ned menu features carefully crafted dishes such as John Dory fi sh with snow peas, enoki mushrooms, lime and coconut foam. ritzparis.com
Montmartre: Les Petites Gouttes
With its down-to-earth, industrial-chic decor, this informal option offers outdoor seating and well-done comfort food, from hamburgers to delectable chef's platters. It also regularly hosts live music. lespetitesgouttes.com