Just weeks after the November 2015 terrorist attacks that rattled Paris, SAFI, the organization that runs Maison & Objet, announced the show would proceed as usual, albeit with heightened security. Today, as Paris Design Week draws to a close, Toma Clark Haines, CEO of The Antiques Diva & Co, takes some time to chat with EAL about the latest news out of the City of Light, sharing about the impact of terrorism on her company, as well as reasons to remain hopeful.
How have the Paris attacks specifically affected M&O and Paris Deco Off?
The attitude on “les avenues” is vibrant with a definable air of “vive la résistance” among Parisians. While locals are taking a stand against terrorism (in addition to drinking a glass of champagne, showing that the French “esprit” cannot and will not be defeated), tourists and especially business travelers, who are backed by risk-adverse corporations, are still shying away from visiting the French capital during a time considered a heightened security risk.
Paris is considered the world’s most popular tourist destination, and more than 10 percent of local jobs depend upon out-of-town visitors. And while it might seem petty to address the financial implications of terrorism, those hit hardest by the economic side effects of terrorism are travel-based and luxury-based businesses, which depend upon tourist dollars. With companies such as Air France reporting a loss of 54 percent as a result of the attacks, it’s no wonder that Maison & Objet and Paris Déco Off are experiencing a decreased number of international visitors to the shows in January 2016, which will result in decreased earning for design industry retailers in the first half of this year.
How has the threat of terrorism impacted your business in Europe?
The Antiques Diva & Co is Europe’s largest antiques touring company. We are a business that is dependent upon travelers as well as the luxury market. Immediately after the terrorist attacks in November, we encountered two waves of economic concerns directly related to the attacks.
The first wave took place within the first month following the attack: Clients canceled existing tour bookings/travel plans because they didn’t feel comfortable traveling internationally during turbulent times. But the second wave has had a greater impact on our company. The first wave resulted in reimbursements, but the second wave has impacted future business. During Quarter 1, we typically would be booking our tours for Quarter 2, our busy season.
With potential clients still hesitant about traveling, they aren’t booking their buying tours for spring 2016, and suddenly the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks are causing financial implications for my company spread over the three quarters. While I absolutely believe that in the long run, terrorism will not win, that the best way to fight terrorism is to not allow ourselves to be terrorized, in the short-term, we are feeling an immediate financial effect as a result of terrorism.
How have you coped with tour cancelations?
In the initial aftermath of the terrorist attacks, with a wave of antique-buying tour cancelations, we opted to forgo our standard 25% nonrefundable deposit, giving clients the opportunity to receive full refunds on upcoming tours. And while it impacted our bottom line—it was the right thing to do. Our clients’ peace of mind matters first and foremost. While we fully believe now is the safest time to travel in Europe, as all the police and military are on high alert, more watchful than ever before—we also understand that clients need to feel comfortable traveling in order to enjoy it.
We are also proposing solutions to clients to help meet their buying needs in spite of their fear of traveling internationally at the moment. Our company has always had two legs: One—the most sexy leg—is our European Antique Buying Tours, whereby clients come overseas to source alongside us antiques and vintage finds. While 20 percent of our business is tourists shopping for themselves, the bulk of our business (80 percent) is working with antique dealers, interior designers, furniture retailers, showrooms, housing developers, hoteliers and restaurateurs.
While all clients want to come overseas to shop—I mean that’s just fun—sometimes it’s just not practical to travel internationally. For those times, we offer a second, much more practical, leg of the business... If the first leg is wearing fishnets…this second leg wears support hose. It’s our Antique Sourcing Service. Clients give us their shopping list and we source inventory on their behalf. We send photos of inventory, negotiate for clients, and liaise clients with international shippers, so they can experience a virtual buying tour.
What do you want clients and potential clients to know about the future of touring?
Perhaps Henry James said it best: “Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had?” Terrorists win when we stop living...when we allow them to terrorize us. Terrorists win when we allow them to take away our freedoms, when we choose to live in fear, when we make decisions based upon fear.
There is no guarantee against terrorism. Terrorism can happen anywhere. While I’ve lived in Europe 15 years, originally I am from Oklahoma, and I lived in Oklahoma when the Oklahoma City bombing happened, when terror hit the heartland of America—when terror struck from the inside out. Terrorism can happen anywhere. Your local church. The movie theater. A local university. Don’t let terrorists stop you from living.
On a lighter note, The Antiques Diva & Co has been named the "Only Approved and Recommended Official Guide" to Paul Bert Serpette—the world’s largest and most reputable antiques market. For the uninitiated, explain the significance of an American being named the guide of the world’s largest antiques market, located in Paris.
I am beyond honored that my American-owned company has been recognized for our contribution to the Paris Flea Market. The Flea Market is an integral part of France’s history. Paul Bert Serpette is not only the best flea market in the world, but it’s also a national landmark. The Antiques Diva & Co serves as a bridge between cultures, making buying antiques abroad more accessible, helping clients source antiques, translate, negotiate and liaise with international shippers.
In 2014, the Paul Bert Serpette—the two major sections of the Paris Flea Market in Saint-Ouen—were sold by the Duke of Westminster to a prominent French businessman, Jean-Cyrille Boutmy, who bought the two markets “out of passion,” and is committed to preserving their eclectic character, making numerous changes that benefit the Paris Flea Market as a whole.
What’s on the horizon for 2016?
We are Europe’s largest antiques touring and sourcing company, working with a team of 20 locally based consultants in eight countries. As 2016 dawns, we’re looking at going global—expanding into new territories. We closed 2015 with research trips around South America and Asia, and are currently seeking contacts to put an extended leadership team in place for leading our sourcing tours further afield.