A year after the Paris attacks, visitors are avoiding the French capital while the tourism sector wants to 'overcome the fear'
PARIS - The statue adorning the centre of the Place de la République is as good as new. The commemorative markings which were painted on it after the January and November attacks in 2015 have disappeared, cleaned off by the local authorities and stored in the archives.
Nothing, you could say, is left to remind people of the deadly attacks which struck France just a few metres from there at the Bataclan, and in several bars in the area, killing 130 people and leaving hundreds injured. Commemoration ceremonies were organised on Sunday to mark this sad anniversary.
But in Paris, the feeling of insecurity has not completely vanished.
In the streets, and notably around the main tourist locations, security measures and initiatives are ever present. Once more this summer, the area around the Eiffel Tower was easily accessible by foot. Today, you need to undergo a bag search to walk under one of the most recognised monuments in the world.
“Often, tourists are afraid,” states Lucineia Passos, a tourist guide for three years in a job she “loves”. She speaks four languages to guide international and French visitors in her work for Paris City Vision, one of the largest agencies in the city In general. “There are 70 at a time,” as the groups are “the size of the bus.”
“The police are visible everywhere and it is reassuring,” she explains, standing at the foot of the tower beneath her brolly, sheltering from the rain. Some of the group went up to visit, the rest are on a river tour.
'The attacks have had a disastrous'
The effects of the attacks of 13 November 2015 are still being felt by professionals in the tourism sector. The number of visitors has fallen by 8 percent from January to October over the whole of the country compared to the same period in 2015, with a fall notably in the number of arrivals from Japan (down 39 percent), China (down by 23 percent) and Germany (down 1.8 percent).
“We have no alternative but to note that the terrorist attacks which affected our country have had a disastrous impact on tourism,” declared Jean-Marc Ayrault, foreign affairs minister responsible for tourism, at the end of October.
In Paris, 1.8m fewer tourists have visited since the start of the year, compared with the same period in 2015, a loss of turnover of just over 1m euros. In the restaurant sector, turnover has fallen by 20 percent, with July, August and September being particularly bad. In Nice, the attacks on 14 July also led to a sharp end to the summer tourist boom, which is so important for the Cote d’Azur.
Beneath the Eiffel Tower, Passon remains optimistic, despite the crisis in the sector. “The situation is beginning to improve!” she stated with some positivity. “Look around us, there are lots of people.” Indeed, there are several hundreds of tourists braving the Paris rain, waiting in line to ride the lift up the Tower. “Today there are lots of people," a security agent confirmed. Read: this is not always the case.
Jean-François Martins, deputy mayor of Paris responsible for tourism in the city, launched an “industrial strategy for tourism”, an action plan with some 59 initiatives to help increase the number of visitors by two percent per annum.
'What has an effect in the choice [of a trip], is security, weather and price, in this exact order'
- Jean-Pierre Nadir
Prime Minister Manuel Valls also announced, in early November, a plan worth some 42.7m euros to bring back tourists who were no longer coming to France. At the heart of this programme was security beyond terrorism, with new surveillance cameras and mobile policing units so as to allow tourists to declare any crimes more easily.
An all-new communication plan, aimed at improving the city's reputation, has been unveiled, as the wide media coverage of Chinese tourists being attacked in the Ile-de-France region, as well as the Kim Kardashian robbery affair, have only worsened the reputation of the City of Love.
“The intention is laudable, and it is certainly headed in the right direction,” states Jean-Pierre Nadir, founder of Easyvoyage.com, a flight price comparison website and tourism blog. “However, it is clearly insufficient, as the budget is nowhere near enough.”
Security, weather, price - in that order
In France, Paris and the Provence-Alpes- Côte-d’Azur (PACA) regions have particularly suffered from the attacks in Nice, at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis and in central Paris.
“These are the most important regions nationally for tourism”, explains Dominique Gobert to MEE, editor at TourMag, a magazine specialising in tourism. “If we look at France as a whole, there is a host of regions which have not been affected all that much."
Several operators and tourist regions have been quick to react to the fall in demand with reduced prices, which combined with an advertising campaign which should “once more instil the positive reputation and tourist appeal to France”.
However, the fall in prices does not guarantee profitability. Hotels are still struggling to sell out. Traders and restaurant owners are faring less well, as certain tourists who spend more are visiting less and less. “The Japanese always spend heavily”, notes Jean-Pierre Nadir.
“What has an effect in the choice [of a trip], is security, weather and price, in this exact order,” he continues. “Paris is in the top three destinations that everyone wants to visit.” But, despite this, fewer tourists are deciding to come to the French capital.
Causes deeper than just the attacks
For this professional working in the tourist sector, the causes for the poor image of Paris run deeper than just the attacks in January and November. Insecurity is more about the “petty crimes” and pickpockets. There is also the lack of cleanliness and “street hustlers” who have, for a long time, affected tourist figures.
Paris also suffers from a lack of competitiveness with the relatively scarce Sunday opening of shops, and the lack of a night metro service is also a critical disadvantage for Paris. “The market share of France [in global tourism] is continuously falling,” he states - and not just during the last year.
'It is certain that people will eventually forget. But, if we take the example of Tunisia, where there was a lot of violence, it is not over yet. Egypt is the same. The context is very tough'
Xan, a tourist guide in Paris, with long black hair and a beard, looks afar somewhat like a mountain climber with his hiking backpack. His group, with around 15 French-speakers, is carefully listening to his discussion about Gustave Eiffel. He never loses his sense of humour during his visits, he states, nor has he radically changed his programme or content of his explanations. For him, there is no question of adopting a war tourism strategy.
However, another Paris tourist guide has confirmed that he has received requests to visit the sites of the attacks.
— La tour Eiffel (@LaTourEiffel) November 13, 2016
Xan, however, states that he has felt the fall in demand less than the change in clients. There are fewer Asian tourists, but just as many from Europe and America. Often, he admits, some of his clients ask questions about security measures (“Especially the Americans”). Some visits are shortened due to controls. However, “it is rare that this leads to any problems," he states.
“It is certain that people will eventually forget,” states Dominique Gobert. “But, if we take the example of Tunisia, where there was a lot of violence, it is not over yet. Egypt is the same. The context is very tough."
It is impossible to predict when the turnaround will begin in a sustainable manner. “We can ask the government what we want, but zero risk will never exist," states the editor, adding that an unstable world brought about by Donald Trump’s presidency could affect people’s willingness to travel and “is unlikely to help things”.
“People do forget, and they will return,” believes Passos, with an optimistic smile, despite the rain and the alarming figures. As, she says: “We need to overcome the fear.” The rest will, eventually, come naturally.