French restaurateurs and hoteliers have declared war on individuals opening "pop-up" restaurants and takeaway outlets in their homes, and renting out rooms to paying guests.
"This business is unfair," said Roland Héguy, the head of the UMIH, a leading hotel and restaurant workers' union in France. “These associations, these private individuals, are not subject to the same regulations as us."
“As well as sales tax and the [global financial] crisis, the commercial activities of these private individuals has become a serious concern for professional businesses," Héguy said. According to the union, such businesses have become “a plague, destabilizing businesses already been weakened by the crisis.”
Didier Chenet, president of Synhorcat, a national union of hoteliers and restaurateurs with a strong presence in Paris, believes such competition would not pose a problem if private individuals had to play by the same rules as businesses.
“But this competition becomes unfair when these non-professionals don’t operate under the same rules and the same taxation burden that real businesses have to adhere to,” he explained.
For example, on the website restaurantparticulier.com amateur cooks advertise their pop-up restaurants, inviting guests to dine at their houses or take away home-cooked meals.
“This practice is completely legal, if done occasionally,” says Chenet. But he believes that those who are selling meals regularly should be subject to legal and commercial regulations. The restaurantparticulier website advertises that individuals can make up to 1,000 euros ($1,254) a week selling home-cooked meals.
The UMIH also bemoans a lack of support for local bars and restaurants, saying that “sports clubs and local associations are buying more alcohol from wholesalers than they are spending in their local bistros.”
For hoteliers, the internet has created new competition. The San Francisco-based Web site Airbnb.com, which offers more than 200,000 private rooms and rentals around the world (including 7,000 in Paris) has already sold more than five million nights of accommodation since launching in 2008.
Parisian authorities estimate that 20,000 apartments have been turned from private residences into holiday homes in the past five years, often without authorization. In addition, 58 percent of French respondents said they would be happy to rent their homes while away, according to a survey by De Particulier a Particulier (PAP).
“New accommodation choices provided by private individuals is a phenomenon that we need to accept because it is going to develop even further [in the future],” according to Josette Sicsic, the editor of Touriscopie, a magazine aimed at the tourist industry.
She notes that the spread of the internet has made it possible for people to offer a meal and a bed to strangers in return for cash.
However, the unions have had enough. The UMIH has called on its members to report cases of unfair trading and has promised to pursue those cases with legal action.