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France

Tourism in France takes fresh hit from recent terror attacks

© Alain Jocard, AFP| People visit the Eiffel Tower on August 6, 2016 in Paris.

Text by Monique EL-FAIZY

Latest update : 2016-08-07

Paris is famed for emptying out in August as locals head out for 'les vacances', but after multiple terrorist attacks, this year is even quieter than normal as nervous tourists avoid not just Paris but all of France.

In 2015 nearly 85 million foreigners visited France, making it the world’s top tourist destination, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. And while it’s ahead of its competitors by a comfortable margin – the next most popular destination is the United States with 78 million visitors – if recent trends continue, France risks losing its number one spot.

In the week following the July 14 attack in Nice, air arrivals in France fell 8.8 percent in comparison with the same period in 2015, according to data from ForwardKeys, a company that provides data for the travel industry. And the company says that international flight bookings for August and September are 20 percent lower than the same time last year.

Likewise, the hotel industry has taken a big hit: for the first half of 2016, the number of hotel nights booked by foreign visitors dropped by 10 percent, according to Matthias Fekl, Junior Minister for the promotion of tourism, and this trend should amplify for July and August.

But those whose livelihoods depend on tourism don’t need statistics to let them know that business is down.

At noon on an August Sunday, the terrace at Café le Dome, located steps from the Eiffel Tower, is typically packed with families. But not today. Only half the outdoor seats were taken and the inside was almost entirely empty. When asked if tourism had dropped, the four waiters on duty talked over one another to lament how bad things had become.

Manager Victor Roda put things in context: his business has taken a 40 percent hit in the last 10 months.

Tourists deserted Paris en masse in the wake of the November killings. Those who were here left as quickly as they could and those who planned to come called off their trips. Hotels were inundated with emails cancelling rooms and flights leaving the French capital were booked to capacity.

Anne Muraro, an art expert and advisor whose company, Paris Deluxe, specialises in a high-end, international clientele, said she was working with foreigners the day of the November attack, and was scheduled to work with them the following Monday and Tuesday. The tragic events took place on Friday night. On Saturday morning her clients were doing their best to get out of Paris as quickly as possible. Saturday flights were full, but by Sunday they were gone. The rest of her bookings for November cancelled, as did all of those for December.

'France is at war'

The trouble is, they haven’t come back, at least not in full force. Muraro said the March attacks in Brussels led to more cancellations and even in June and July, when families typically come to France for their holidays, she had a third of her usual number of clients. She noticed that queues at the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay, two destinations popular with tourists, are significantly shorter than usual.

An employee at the famed Bateaux Mouches tour boat company said they “surely” had fewer customers this summer than last.

Jean-François Labourdette, who works at the Hotel du Champ de Mars, said that the tourists who are coming – and they number between 10 and 20 percent fewer than usual – are visibly edgy. They ask if it’s safe to go out to dinner or to tourist attractions.

“They’re afraid everywhere,” he said.

That fear is likely not lessened by the stance of the governments both French and foreign. President François Hollande declared that “France is at war”, and the ongoing state of emergency has not just individuals but governments spooked about the security situation. The United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom are among the countries that have warned citizens about the possibility of terror attacks in France.

Date created : 2016-08-07

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