Cannes traders roll out red carpet to Saudi royals on Riviera holiday
While some residents have grumbled at the closure of a beach for his French Riviera holiday, King Salman and his 1,000-strong entourage are winning hearts in Cannes, where their big-spending ways are cheered by local traders.
The Saudi monarch's choice of Vallauris Golfe-Juan near Cannes for his holiday in the sun has generated mixed emotions in the area.
Tens of thousands of people signed a petition protesting the closure of a beach next to his villa for the duration of his visit, a move aimed at shielding the royals from the public glare.
But for every naysayer there is a business owner gleefully welcoming the visitors' profligacy.
Every morning, Saudi families are to be seen ambling along the Croisette, the ritzy palm-tree-lined seafront boulevard where film stars gather for the Cannes Film Festival each May.
From Chanel to Prada to Hermes they flit from one luxury store to the next while outside a line of gleaming sports cars waits to whisk them off to their hotel or yacht, or, later, to the nightclubs of Saint-Tropez.
"We are very lucky that the king of Saudi Arabia, and with him a delegation of over 1,000 people, chose the region for their holidays," Michel Chevillon, manager of the Croisette Beach hotel and president of the Union of Cannes Hoteliers said.
"July will be an exceptional month, with revenues up 15 to 20 percent on last year," he enthused.
The king's French sojourn has also been a shot in the arm for seasonal employment, with more hands than usual on deck in hotels to ensure the visitors' every need is fulfilled.
"They're demanding clients. You have to have people at their disposal," Chevillon said.
In accommodation alone the Saudis are spending eight to nine million euros ($8.8-9.8 million) over their three-week visit but other sectors are also getting a boost.
"My turnover is up 50 percent this holiday season thanks to the Saudis," Sander Smids, a Cannes-based Dutch florist, said.
"Every day the 'palace' (the king's villa) orders flowers from us, as do the big hotels and the yachts. They want the arrangements to be impressive. Sometimes it's hard to make them fit inside a car!".
- 'They want it to be noticeable' -
The manager of a beauty salon said she too had received extra custom.
"Saudi women turn up out of the blue. We've had quite a few this past week," Zoe, who did not wish to give her surname, said.
Compared with her French customers the Saudis preferred their make-up on the showy side, she noted.
"They want it to be noticeable, they go for a sophisticated look."
One beautician received a visit from one of the Saudi princesses, who came flanked by a bodyguard.
"I curled her eyelashes," the therapist said. "They're good clients because they don't watch their spending," she added, revealing the bill to have topped 200 euros ($219).
A saleswoman in a luxury clothes store said the visitors accounted for half the shop's sales in the past week.
"It's a good thing they're there because Europeans aren't spending this year. The Middle Easterners are keeping us afloat."
Not everyone has been ringing up additional sales, however.
Nicole, a fishmonger in the town's main market, said her business was unchanged by the visit.
Andree, a greengrocer, also said she had yet to see one of the visitors sizing up her wares but did acknowledge an increase in business from top restaurants along the coast.
Given the cash injection many traders take a dim view of those who rail about the temporary closure to the public of Mirandole beach, next to the royal villa. A police sign at the site declares the beach out of bounds "under the right of the residence of the king of Saudi Arabia."
The Nice-Cote d'Azur Chamber of Commerce on Thursday called for an end to bathers' grumbling, warning of the "risk of the delegation shortening their stay and of endangering future visits for years to come."
Chevillon is confident his hotel's Gulf customers will be back: "A satisfied customer always returns, and all the feedback we have indicates that the Saudi delegation are generally happy with their stay."
© 2015 AFP