Tour operators say it's too soon to gauge Notre Dame fire impact

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The severely fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral.
The severely fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral. Photo Credit: Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP

Tour operators on Tuesday said it is unclear what impact the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral might have on tourism in Paris, which was already suffering a drop in visitors because of the ongoing Yellow Vest protests that have occurred every Saturday since mid-November.

"It's just too early to tell, said Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president of Tauck Land Journeys. "In the short term, it's likely that a few people might decide to defer a trip to Paris to a later time, while many, many others will feel -- admirably -- a very strong urge to support the city and its people during a difficult time.  

"We stand firmly with Paris, and we're looking forward to bringing many Tauck groups there over the coming months. Longer term, we know that Paris will remain one of the world's most desirable cities, and like everyone, we're looking forward to the full reconstruction and restoration of Notre Dame."

Derek Kehl, European operations director for G Adventures, said that while the fire will obviously limit the number of visitors inside the cathedral, "we do not expect it will have a detrimental influence on the overall flow of travelers to Paris this season. The City of Light is still a beacon of beauty, romance and resilience, and it stands ready to welcome new generations of guests" to its many other "European masterpieces."

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Tim Fairhurst, secretary general of the European Tourism Association, said the closure of the 12th century architectural wonder likely wouldn't affect a lot of tour operator itineraries as most don't make group stops because it was too hard to get coaches nearby.

"Those that sold interior visits will of course cease, and I imagine refund as necessary or offer something else," he said. 

The only changes that G Adventures said it might make to its Parisian walking tours is a visit inside the Sacre-Coeur Basilica on Montmartre near the Moulin Rouge, rather than going inside Notre Dame. 

However, Kehl said, "If our guests wish to pay homage to "Our Lady of Paris" from afar, our chief experience officers will do their best to support them."

Abercrombie & Kent spokeswoman Pamela Lassers said A&K guides met to discuss what to do while Notre Dame is being rebuilt. 

"We will be recommending a visit to Sainte-Chapelle, an awe-inspiring royal chapel within the medieval Palais de la Cite and home to Christ's Crown of Thorns," she said. "From Sainte-Chapelle, guests can view the exterior of Notre Dame, as well as Paris' Left Bank. Most importantly, it is also under the stewardship of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the organization which now has the task of rebuilding Notre Dame, so A&K and our guests will be financially contributing to the reconstruction."

The Yellow Vest protests have been a drag on tourism in Paris. STR, which tracks hotel occupancy and rates, said demand was down 6.5% in December, 4.2% percent in January and 4.4% in February. January’s 65% absolute occupancy level was the lowest for a January in Paris since 2016, when the market was in decline following November 2015 terrorist attacks, STR said.

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