A mourning Paris sees tourism take a hit, but will heal


PARIS — In the aftermath of the ISIS terror attacks that killed 129 people and injured scores more on Nov. 13, throngs of police officers and armed security personnel this week appeared to have replaced the hordes of tourists who typically descend on this city, one of the world’s most popular destinations.

From the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, from Sacre Coeur to Notre Dame Cathedral, the number of tourists milling about this week represented a small fraction of what one would expect to see here on even the slowest days of the tourist season.

Only one of the four pillars of the Eiffel Tower was open, with just a couple dozen people lining up to take the elevator to the viewing platform. At the Louvre, art lovers could practically walk right into one of the world’s most treasured museums with almost no wait.

Meanwhile, security had been noticeably beefed up all around the city. Whether they were checking bags and making customers open up their coats before entering stores on the Champs-Elysees, or patrolling tourist sites with their guns in a cradle-carry position, it was impossible to overlook the increased security throughout a city that was on high alert.

“We figured out that approximately 100,000 tourists were in Paris this [past] weekend, and lots of them decided to shorten their stay,” Véronique Potelet, manager of press relations for the Paris Tourist Office, told Travel Weekly.

Clearly, the deadly attacks that dealt a challenging blow to this country’s freedom and security have dealt an equally challenging blow to the tourism economy of France, which was still recovering from the Charlie Hebdo attacks at the start of the year.

But French tourism officials and U.S. tour operators last week said it was too soon to say what the overall impact will be on France’s tourism arrivals, which in 2014 topped any other country’s visitors, at 83.7 million, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Francois Navarro, managing director of the Paris Region Tourist Board, said November is typically a strong month for Paris, due mostly to business travelers, and while the holiday season sees more leisure travelers, December is generally not as strong overall as November. He acknowledged that he did not expect the holiday season to be very strong this year.

“Of course, there is already an impact in Paris,” Navarro said, noting that travelers had canceled upcoming trips to Paris and some chose to go home early.

Tour ops offer rebooking options

Tour operators reported relatively few cancellations last week, in part due to mid-November being a slower leisure travel period for Paris. But to keep clients from canceling, many rolled out rebooking options.

“We have had virtually no cancellations,” said Trafalgar President Paul Wiseman. That, despite the fact that the company offered guests who were Paris-bound through Nov. 27 the opportunity “to cancel or postpone … without penalty.”

But Wiseman added: “This is the quietest time of the year for departures. It’s too early to determine whether forward bookings will be affected.”

MLT Vacations, which operates Delta Vacations and Air France Holidays, said dozens of the wholesalers’ customers were planning travel to Paris in the coming days and weeks but that a number had also asked about their options.

For those scheduled to travel by Nov. 22, Delta Air Lines and Air France issued change-fee waivers, allowing customers to shift their travel dates or their destination.

“A small number have opted to use this waiver and chose to change destinations,” said MLT President John Caldwell.

Customers covered by the current waiver may also opt for a credit redeemable for future travel. Caldwell said MLT Vacations was reviewing bookings not covered by the current waivers on a case-by-case basis.

For its part, the Globus family of brands was hoping that a lenient re-booking policy in the wake of the attacks would both help reassure wary travelers and keep the business in France, even if it shifts to a later date.

Any Globus, Cosmos, Avalon Waterways or Monograms guest scheduled to travel through Dec. 14 on any travel package that includes Paris, may rebook to another 2015 or 2016 departure date without penalty, according to Steve Born, vice president of marketing at the Globus family of brands.

“We have received some cancellations,” Born said. “We have also had a handful of travelers scheduled to go to Europe in the next month move their departure dates. The most common inquiries we are receiving are from travel agents checking on our operations status, wanting to reassure their clients.”

A resilient destination

As the world was still coming to grips last week with the terror attacks and what the implications might be for both regional and global security and travel, local officials looked to past challenges Paris had faced as a guide for what its tourism industry could expect in the near and longer terms.

The week after the terror attacks in Paris: Tourists on a boat plying the Seine in front of the Louvre at sunset.
The week after the terror attacks in Paris: Tourists on a boat plying the Seine in front of the Louvre at sunset. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

In 1995, a series of bombings in France carried out by an Islamic terror group between July and September killed eight people and injured more than 100. According to data provided by the Paris Tourist Office, visitor arrivals to Paris in 1995 dropped by 3.6%, from 11.6 million in 1994 to 11.3 million in 1995. But by 1996, they had increased 6.9% compared with 1995, to 12.1 million, having returned to pre-1995 levels.

Similarly, riots that broke out on the outskirts of Paris and throughout France in November 2005 also took a toll on Paris tourism. Foreign arrivals to Paris ended up declining 4.6% in 2006 compared with 2005, according to data compiled by France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economics Studies. After that, Paris experienced two years of tourism growth, which was cut short by the global economic decline, the Paris Tourist Office reported.

While this city’s famous tourist sites were bereft of visitors last week, one place that was drawing large crowds was the Place de la Republique, which had been transformed into a makeshift memorial overflowing with candles and flowers in memory of those who lost their lives in the attacks.

Parisians appeared determined not to let fear deny them the routines or simple pleasures of their day-to-day lives. Indeed, aside from the grieving, aside from the lack of tourists, life went on very much as usual in much of this city last week. People went to work. Laughter and chatter abounded at sidewalk cafes and restaurants.

Paris remained charming, as ever.


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