Paris launches drive to lure visitors as tourism plummets

AFP archive | Tourists visit the Versailles palace near Paris.

Paris launched a major drive to attract tourists to the city on Monday following an alarming drop in visitor numbers after the November 2015 Paris attacks, compounded by a wave of protests and transport strikes.


Under grey skies at the Eiffel Tower in central Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced an advertising campaign, jointly funded by City Hall and the state, to lure visitors back to the City of Light.

“The objective is to reassure both visitors and professionals [in the city] about the security situation in Paris and to project a positive and enthusiastic message that makes Paris a desirable destination again,” they said in a shared statement.

For residents living in the city, life in Paris has mostly returned to normal since the November 13 terrorist attacks. But the number of visitors to the city, vital to its economy, has plummeted, and the effort to entice tourists back has been hampered by a recent wave of sometimes violent social unrest against proposed changes to France’s employment law.

Figures provided by the city’s tourist board show that the number of Japanese tourists was down 56% in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the previous year while 35% fewer Russian visitors came to Paris. The number of Chinese tourists, which reached a record 1.2 million in 2015, fell by 13.9%.

Accordng to an MKG Hospitality report in January, the November Paris attacks cost hotels in the French capital €270 million in lost revenue.

Unions threaten more disruption

Much of the publicity the French capital has received in recent weeks has contributed to the malaise: street protests have been broken up by riot police and teargas, strikes have crippled the country’s public transport and caused flight delays, and union blockades of oil refineries have resulted in huge queues outside petrol stations.

"The scenes of guerrilla-type action in the middle of Paris, beamed around the world, reinforce the feeling of fear and misunderstanding," the tourist board said in a statement.

Paris is gearing up to host the Euro 2016 football championships beginning on June 10 – an event that should be a boon for the city and help offset the recent decline in tourism. But France’s powerful unions have threatened to disrupt transport for the millions of visitors expected in the city if the government does not back down on its labour reforms.

The unions and the government remain at loggerheads on the proposed reforms and there is little sign of either side coming to a compromise. More strikes and blockades are set to take place from the beginning of June.

It is bad news for a city where 500,000 people are employed by the tourism industry, a sector that accounts for 13% of the city’s income and 18.5% of its jobs.

‘Paris is safe’

Si Zyad Si Hocine, director of Paris’s upmarket Grand Hotel, said he was confident that a successful Euro 2016 would help restore the reputation of the French capital after the November attacks.

“The Euro 2016 will be the best opportunity to show the world that Paris is safe and that people here know how to enjoy life,” he told FRANCE 24.

“Since November people have been afraid to come to Paris,” Hocine said. He added that the news media’s focus on the “tiny minority” of violent protesters during the recent social unrest had unfairly tarnished the capital’s image.

“But Paris has not become unsafe,” he said. “Paris is safe, Paris is beautiful, and it must remain the destination of choice for lovers and for [those seeking] luxury.”

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning