Munich's Christmas music is in July, not December

June through July is Munich's high season for high end shopping thanks to Burqa-clad women from the Gulf States. Photo: foreignpolicy.comThere is a symphony being played right now in the high street in Munich and many other quarters throughout the city. The show begins promptly at eight in the morning and runs continuously without intermission until eight in the evening. The principal players may change but the finished product is nearly always the same. This symphony is played in the key of 'E', and this is short for Euro, because the repeating melody is the sound of cash registers ringing, and everything, nearly everything, is paid for in cash. Cash is like the sound of a Stradivarius violin to business owners' ears.

Munich's streets often seem to have an abundance of tourists in any season. Backpackers come in the late spring; other Europeans often visit in the autumn or winter. American and Russian tourists seem to be spread out evenly throughout the entire year. But for those summer months June, July and August, Munich welcomes some of their most important tourists. They may represent around 25% of the total tourists during this period, but their spending habits make them the most desirable group of tourists. These are the new "Golden Hordes" that descend from what is known as the GCC, or Gulf Cooperation Council. These countries include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE.

I spoke with four shop assistants, one each from Dior, Versace, Mont Blanc, and Bottega Veneta. Though none of them were authorized to speak on record (they wanted me to speak with their managers which I wanted to avoid completely), I was able to gather enough information to begin to spot some trends. All were in agreement that the June through August shopping period is much busier than the pre-Christmas one. For some the difference was as much as 30-40% busier. All the shops I saw today were at full-staff, and this was necessary because all the shops were full, really full. The shoppers from the GCC are not nearly as discerning as many other tourist groups and they often leave with five, six or even seven articles in one day, and often they visit more than one day. Many of the shoppers have extended families, they want to make sure that everyone gets something and they almost always pay in cash.

Women from the GCC spend more than most other groups of tourists in Munich. Photo: foreignpolicy.comOn further questioning I was able to extract another titbit from the shop assistant at Dior. She said for the most part these tourists from the Gulf countries are extremely polite and that they always seem to act as if they are an honoured guest. Though this shop assistant was from Russia herself she did not have the most flattering things to say about Eastern European tourists and their habits and demeanor. She said with a wink that many of her colleagues enjoyed helping these tourists from the Middle East, because they were occasionally known to tip a nice little sum on their purchases.

But their economic impact goes much further beyond the fashion houses of Italy and France. They often get medical treatment for everything from gout to heart disease, and they have been known to 'rent out' entire wings of some of the local Munich hospitals. Hospitals, like every other business have no problem with cash or American Express Platinum Cards. Also, German automakers and the salespersons in their showrooms salivate at the opportunity of selling not one but perhaps two or three of the latest Audi R8 Spyders or Porsche Carreras. Some enterprising individuals have even begun to breed falcons to sell to these specific tourists. The Middle East's affinity for these birds goes back more than three millennia.

Many hotels have realized the value of the GCC tourists and have begun to staff Arabic speaking employees, provide halal food, Qurans and authentic prayer rugs in the rooms with easily obtainable campus directions to Mecca. Other businesses are also implementing as many things as they can to make the tourists of the GCC continue to choose Munich as a European destination. The numbers over the last several years have shown a steady increase of 7-8%, with room for even more growth. This is certainly a symphony that most businesses in Munich are happy to replay every summer.

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