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The Ugly Underside of Success

Note to Sam Keller, director of Art Basel: If you want to continue growing your very successful art fair, you should move it to a city that can better handle its visitors, or consider pitching tents on the Messeplatz to accommodate the hordes even more desperate for a bed than a Picasso to call their own.

Note to Sam Keller, director of Art Basel: If you want to continue growing your very successful art fair, you should move it to a city that can better handle its visitors, or consider pitching tents on the Messeplatz to accommodate the hordes even more desperate for a bed than a Picasso to call their own.

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With an estimated 56,000 people converging on this small city, Basel is ill-equipped to handle the crowds. The city’s hotels are crammed to the rafters, with riverboats docked in the Rhine to handle the overflow. Zurich, an hour away by train, is also sold out, and bed-less art lovers are spilling into Zurich’s suburbs in a frantic search for rooms. Hotels, meanwhile, are gleefully goosing their rates to fleece the victims, with even sleazy, unairconditioned fleabags in the city’s red light district charging $250 for their rooms. (not to mention charging $5.60 for a bottle of Sprite.)

Call me a spoiled American, but this air conditioning thing is no joke. The weather has been delightful…if you’re in a bikini on the beach. If you’re trying to sleep in an stifling room with open windows overlooking the tram tracks (for $350 a night) it can be excruciating. Hoteliers in even high-rent places say the city’s power grid can’t handle the demand created by 100% occupancy, so service is spotty or non-existent. Lots of places have none to begin with. Maybe this a preview of what we can expect when global warming rudely weans us from our comforts.

Similiar problems arise, they tell me, when the watch fair is in town. But hotel developers have a tough time when they clash up against preservationists who oppose building unsightly high rises.

That’s Basel’s prerogative. Granted, it’s a lovely, art-rich city. But if its ability to support a large scale event continues to be so compromised, I, for one, will wait to catch it in a place that knows how to host a party. See you in Miami.

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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