Some tour operators have begun backing away from offering
clients an opportunity to ascend the Eiffel Tower, citing the growing crowds,
the time it requires and a new group booking process that has made it harder to
secure tickets in advance.
"The process for reserving advance elevator tickets is
getting more challenging," said Steve Born, senior vice president of
marketing for the Globus family of brands.
As part of an overhaul of its process for issuing group
tickets, the Eiffel Tower has changed its online booking system, which among
other things now requires that operators register with French tax authorities.
The Societe D'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), the company that manages the tower, said that at
the start of the year it informed more than 1,800 travel agents, tour operators
and other travel professionals it would be making changes to its
business-to-business website. The SETE introduced a transition period from this
past January to March 27, during which companies were able to purchase tickets
the way they had previously while preparing for the new process.
By the end of March, operators had to have created an
account and obtained a signed contract within the new booking system, which
includes obtaining the French tax authorization.
"This is a legal obligation," said Victoria Klahr,
the SETE's press officer. "Professionals are obliged to identify
themselves to the French tax authorities and, thereafter, to comply fully with
their VAT (value-added tax) declaration and payment requirements. The
registration formalities must be completed with the Foreign Business Tax
She added: "SETE obviously can't sign a contract with
companies that do not meet a French legal standard."
Born said that despite the challenges, Globus has managed to
navigate the new system and is still guaranteeing second-floor access on tours
and itineraries on which it has promised that inclusion.
Tauck, however, issued a letter to clients earlier this
month stating that the company would not be able to bring them inside the tower
because "with zero advance warning, Parisian authorities have decided to
severely restrict Eiffel Tower access to non-native groups, including U.S. tour
operators." Tauck added that it was working to secure tickets via
alternate means but did not know if it would succeed.
Although the letter implies that the new process for
obtaining tickets puts foreign companies at a disadvantage, Klahr asserted, "There
are obviously no restrictions or discrimination of customers. A company can
sign a contract with SETE regardless of its country."
A Tauck spokesman said the letter reflected the company's
understanding of the process at the time it was written.
Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tour Operators Association,
said that while the new process, including the need to register with the French
tax authorities, does appear to be quite a bit more complicated than the older,
much less rigid system, "there is no anti-foreigner policy at the Eiffel
He said the new system is being put in place at a time when
Paris and the tower are seeing higher visitor numbers and in preparation for
the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The SETE said the new system will better track purchases,
optimize security and better facilitate access to available tickets.
According to the official Eiffel Tower website, the
1,063-foot-tall icon welcomes nearly 7 million visitors a year, some 75% of
whom are foreigners, making it the most visited paid monument in the world.
Visitors can get tickets to take an elevator to the second-floor viewing
platform or to the top, or they can climb stairs to the second floor.
This latest overhaul of group ticketing is the most recent
change in a process that has become increasingly arduous, to the point that
some operators had already nixed tower visits well before the policy change.
At G Adventures, Yves Marceau, vice president of product,
said the operator does not take groups into the tower, in part because the
ticketing and group policy has always been difficult.
"The experience with overcrowding has actually become a
detractor to client satisfaction," Marceau said. "What we might do
instead of going to the top of the Eiffel Tower is, after dinner, take the
group on a walk to see these monuments lit up at night. The tower, for example,
is particularly beautiful after dark, and for those who want to, they can often
go up with little to no lines later in the evening."
Born said that in recent years, Globus has found that
creating Eiffel Tower experiences outside of elevator access has been
increasingly popular with guests. So, for example, it might offer a Seine River
cruise that glides by the tower or bring guests to panoramic viewing points in
the city that include views of the tower.
Born said that providing these viewing and photo
opportunities, combined with the time required to ascend, means clients today
are not as adamant about visiting the tower as they might have been years ago.
On average, he said, ascending the tower takes more than two
hours from start to finish. That includes the walk from the parking area,
accessing one of the two entrances using a security line, accessing one of the
two operating elevators (a second line), then catching an elevator back down.
Even so, the challenges have not stopped some operators from
continuing to offer the experience. Trafalgar said it includes elevator access
to the second floor on its Paris tours. Collette, meanwhile, said it offers
guests dinner in the Eiffel Tower, with the lift ticket included.
In a statement, Collette said, "Due to recent security
changes, the entrances have been adjusted for groups depending on their arrival
time, which has resulted in tour managers needing to reconfirm prior to arriving
with their group which entrance they should be using. Right now, this is
nothing beyond an extra step."fel Tower is, after dinner, take the group
on a walk to see these monuments lit up at night. The tower, for example, is
particularly beautiful after dark, and for those who want to, they can often go
up with little to no lines later in the evening."