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Increasing number of ‘salon tourists’ heading to neighbouring countries
The longer that salons are closed to customers in Belgium, the more Belgians are going to a neighbouring country to get their hair cut. Border areas in both France and the Netherlands are seeing significant numbers of people crossing the border for a quick snip.
The practice is technically not illegal, though Belgian authorities ask that citizens don’t do it. Salons have been closed in Belgium since 2 November as part of measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Still, hairdressers and barbers in border towns are booking a huge number of appointments from Belgians; some salons in France and the Netherlands report that half of their current customer base are Belgians.
“These are clients who have never made an appointment here before,” confirmed one salon owner in Sluis, just over the Dutch border with West Flanders. One of her Belgian customers told VRT that hairdressers and barbers in Belgium are working under the table anyway. “I’ve noticed that many people in Ghent and in Brussels are walking around with freshly cut hair,” she said. “I prefer to do it officially here in the safest possible conditions with a facemask, rather than in someone’s house.”
She’s not alone, and she’s not wrong. According to an investigation by Le Soir, there are plenty of hairdressers willing to book appointments, mostly in their clients’ homes. “Normally I work part-time in a salon, but now I’m temporarily unemployed, getting €600 a month,” one young barber told the newspaper. “I can’t pay my rent and eat on that. I need to work.”
He has nearly 30 customers a week, all over Brussels, he says. They find each other on social media and through word of mouth. That’s fewer customers than he would have in the salon, but he’s earning the same, he explains, because it’s tax-free.
The hairdresser isn’t concerned about contracting Covid-19. “I disinfect my equipment between each customer,” he says, “and I wear gloves and a mask. Customers also act responsibly.”
Another young hairdresser from Liège has also continued to work under the table. “I started in a salon but it had to close before I got my contract, so I’m not entitled to unemployment,” she told Le Soir. “That’s untenable, so I cut hair from time to time.”
She will not work with the elderly, she says, as they are too vulnerable to the virus. She has even had two customers who “turned out to be police officers,” she confides. “I thought I was going to get into trouble, but no! They just told me they were happy with their cuts.”
Patrick Dumont, the vice-president of the Belgian Union of Hairdressers, calls it a “parallel economy” that we didn’t see during the first lockdown. “Now they are taking advantage of the situation,” he said, to work under the table. “Add to that the pressure from customers to get their hair done, and you see a whole alternative network taking shape. Professional stylists are even renting chairs across the border in France and the Netherlands. But the most common practice is visiting people at home.”
Representatives from the sector are concerned that proper hygiene may not always be followed and that going into people’s homes who you don’t know isn’t even safe. They have delivered the message to federal ministers this week that it would be safer to re-open hair salons than to see these trends continue.
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