PARIS -- The violence that has shaken the suburbs here and other French cities may be causing Americans to think twice about travel to France, but only a few have canceled trips to one of the worlds most popular travel destinations, travel companies said.

.

We expect to have some cancellations, but mostly we have had inquiries, said Harry Dalgaard, president of Avanti Destinations, a Portland, Ore.-based tour operator that is a subsidiary of French-owned Rail Europe.

Weve been assured by our suppliers and transfer and sightseeing companies that they are operating normally and that central Paris is fine. Clients have to make a decision. If they feel comfortable, they should go.

As the unrest spread from the northern suburbs of Paris to cities throughout France, with angry mobs setting fire to buildings and vehicles, the State Department issued an alert, warning U.S. travelers to avoid areas where riots have occurred.

It added that travelers using Charles de Gaulle Airport should be aware that train service between the airport and Paris runs through an affected area and has occasionally been disrupted. Travelers should rely instead on airport buses or taxis to downtown Paris.

Meanwhile, the French Ministry of Tourism sought to reassure travelers.

In a statement, it said, The violence has not affected tourist sites or areas frequented by tourists. At this time, we are not concerned about the tourism situation in France. An inquiry by the tourism office suggests that foreign tourists are not canceling their reservations in significant numbers.

Yann Battefourt, the French consulates vice consul and press attache in New York, said, We do not believe there have been many cancellations because the areas where tourists or business travelers go have not been affected.

In 2004, 3 million Americans visited France, and the country is still projecting an increase of 10% more travelers in 2005, said a spokeswoman in the French tourist office.

Travel companies specializing in France said the country only recently regained ground after a tough year in 2003 when travel was down due to tensions between the U.S. and France over the Iraq war.

Now, they are again concerned about a potential impact on their businesses, especially if the violence spreads and continues.

Yolande Kamins, president of Enchanted France, a Los Angeles-based tour operator, said, Its really a slow period right now and people are not yet looking and planning for summer, so we havent seen much of an impact and no cancellations.

However, she added that clients who are looking to travel to France for the holidays are taking their time to decide.

Louis-Marie Garnier, manager of France Vacations of Chatsworth, Calif., said he has fielded many client inquiries about the violence but has received no cancellations. But few new bookings have been made since rioting began, he said.

It could be a variety of factors. Its a slow time of year anyway, he said.

Betsy Stegeman, a France specialist at the Travel Source, a Falmouth, Mass., travel agency, said none of her clients has canceled France trips, but several in the planning stages adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

Even if the disturbances remain in areas not frequented by tourists, there will be a perception that it is not safe to travel to that country, she said.

One operator suggested that the people who travel in low season, many of them veteran, sophisticated travelers, may be less likely to cancel based on violent incidents.

American travelers also seem to have grown less fearful about traveling, even in areas where there have been disturbances, several people said, citing little fallout in travel this summer after the bombings in central London.

People seem to have adapted and recognize that were in a different era and we have to expect some disruptions, said Dalgaard.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI