One year after attacks, tourism struggles to recover in France

Crowds gathered at the Place de la Republique in Paris in November 2015 to pay their respects to the victims just days after the Nov. 13 terror attacks in that city.
Crowds gathered at the Place de la Republique in Paris in November 2015 to pay their respects to the victims just days after the Nov. 13 terror attacks in that city. Photo Credit: Michelle Baran

On the one-year anniversary of terror attacks that killed 130 in Paris, France's tourism industry is struggling to recover from the cumulative effects of those attacks, followed by attacks in Brussels and the Bastille Day killings in Nice.

"Bookings seemed to be slowly rebounding in the early part of the year after the shock of the Nov. 13 deadly attacks in Paris," said Yolande Kamins, a France specialist at the Los Angeles-based Enchanted France agency. "Then came Nice's massacre on the Promenade des Anglais in July, and bookings dropped significantly. I compensated by booking more of Spain and Italy."

Kamins added that the presidential campaign in the U.S. didn't help because it kept clients in a "wait and see" mode. But, she said, since the election last Tuesday, "I feel like bookings to France are picking up a bit for end-of-year travel and for 2017. I think people are getting used to the idea of traveling despite the possibility of terror attacks anywhere in the world. It is becoming a fact of life. I'm confident that 2017 will see a surge in travel to Paris and other France destinations."

France managed to record a record year in tourism last year despite the Paris attacks, welcoming 85 million foreign visitors, 3.6 million of whom were Americans, according to Atout France, the country's tourism development agency. Those 85 million represented a 4.2% increase over the country's 2014 figures, enabling France to maintain its claim to being the No. 1 tourism destination in the world by arrivals.

The U.S. ranked No. 2, with 77.5 million arrivals in 2015, followed by Spain, with 68.2 million.

France was off to a promising start in early 2016. Incoming flights were up 4% in the first quarter of 2016, and flights to Paris were up 3.1%, according to ARC numbers provided by Atout France.

But by the second quarter, flights to France were down a little over 1%, and those to Paris were down nearly 4%. Atout France did not have overall flight figures for the third quarter, but based on ARC data for flights from the U.S. to France, it reported that departures were flat in July and slightly down in August and September.

Travel insurer Allianz Global Assistance reported that the outlook for the holiday season was shaping up to be no better. The company reviewed more than 650,000 Americans' travel plans during the peak holiday travel season, Thanksgiving through New Year's, and found a significant decline in the number of travelers planning to visit Paris.

According to Allianz, there was a moderate increase in customers who purchased insurance with the company for travel to Paris in the summer vacation season. But it saw a 12.8% decline, to 70,000 travelers, for the 2016 winter holiday season.

Turning a new leaf in 2017

Despite some of the discouraging numbers for 2016, French tourism officials say hope is on the horizon for 2017.

In an email, Atout France stated, "The outlook for 2017 is positive. Early bookings for agencies and tour operators we monitor show encouraging trends."

The tourism agency went on to say it was hoping that a host of new hotel openings, especially in Paris, as well as numerous notable museum exhibitions and cultural events will help reignite bookings to France.

For example, this year the Cite du Vin, a center devoted to wine production, opened in Bordeaux, a city that, unlike Paris and Nice, actually saw its visitor numbers increase in 2016.

"The travel and consumer press continued to cover France, showing their confidence in our destination," Atout France stated. "And although Paris and Nice showed decreases, other urban destinations showed increases, like Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille."

And despite the challenges, France remains a top travel destination, according to James Phillips, president of the wholesaler TravelBound.

"France still continues to be one of our top destinations for the rest of the year and well into 2017," Phillips said. "Even though we did see a decrease in overall bookings to Europe compared to previous years, Paris remains a top contender."

He noted that TravelBound is hoping to further encourage a 2017 France and Europe rebound by incentivizing agents with a bonus commission program that it launched in October for all bookings made for travel to Europe in the first quarter of 2017.

"We are already seeing a positive booking trend, with a 20% growth in room nights booked during the first week the incentive was announced," Phillips said. "For France, specifically, bookings grew by 56% during the last week of October compared to the first week the incentive was announced."

For 2017, he said, the outlook seems to point to a shortening of the booking window with an increase in "stickiness," meaning that travelers are booking later but are more serious about actually making those trips once they are booked.

Phillips echoed a sentiment voiced by many who sell France, which is that, ultimately, the country will bounce back.

"We're optimistic that France will rebound in 2017, albeit slowly," he said.


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