Moscow - One year after November 13 terror attacks in Paris, when 130 people were killed and more than 350 injured, France's once flourishing tourism industry is still in limbo as security concerns have discouraged millions of foreign visitors from travelling to the country.
TERRIBLE YEAR FOR FRANCE, CURSED YEAR FOR TOURISM
Since the beginning of this year, French tourism industry, which accounts for almost eight percent of country's GDP, have seen a eight percent fall in the number of foreign arrivals with almost 40 percent less Japanese, 23 percent less Chinese and 10 percent less Germans.
“You have to understand that 2016 was cursed with many negative events: floods, violent demonstrations, strikes in transportation. Plus the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice. Hard to overcome... The situation in France has not settled a year after the terrible events that occurred in Paris,” chairperson of hotel research firm MKG Group and Hospitality Factory Georges Panayotis told Sputnik.
According to MKG Group calculations, the performance index for the industry in the first three quarters of this year fell down by almost 6 percent for the country as a whole, and by 16 percent for the city of Paris, which serves as primary European destination for many Asian and North American travellers.
“This is a rather unusual situation compared to previous crisis related to security issues, such as the attack against the satiric publication Charlie Hebdo [the attack on French satirical magazine on January 7, 2015 by two Islamists claimed 12 lives],” Panayotis admitted.
INVESTING IN 'SECURE PLACE' IMAGE
On Monday, several days ahead of the first anniversary of November 13 attacks, the French government unveiled a series of measures worth 42-million euro to restore tourism sector and trust in France as a save place to visit.
About 15 million euro will be spent specifically on boosting security in Paris and nearby areas. Safety in various culture facilities and 30 museums is going to be enhanced and more video surveillance will be installed in tourist hot-spots.
“Indeed, even as the government reacted very quickly, after 13 November 2015, in order to reinforce security, the attacks in Belgium and then in Nice had given a real halt to a already suffering tourism sector. It was essential and urgent to re-establish a sense of security and to alleviate the concerns of tourists,” the GNI, an independent professional organization serving hotels, cafes, restaurants, caterers and reception organisers, said commenting new measures in a statement obtained by Sputnik.
However, while welcoming the government's initiative to invest more money in tourism security, the organization suggested that more measures like VAT cuts were needed to help the industry.
“I can only salute the intention but also compare the means with the challenge... To promote tourism and help the players of the industry, a few dozen millions won't make the trick. The city of Paris, world capital of Tourism, has allocated â‚8 millions, a drop of water in the sea of international promotion,” Georges Panayotis echoed these concerns, adding that when government wanted to sustain the revenues of French agricultural sector, which represents lesser share of GPD than tourism and hotel industry, it has been allocated hundreds of millions euros.
SCARY TERM 'STATE OF EMERGENCY'
The vast majority of tourism players agreed on the need to lift the state of emergency, which was imposed right after the November attacks, raising concerns that tourists might prefer to avoid the place with a highly visible security presence.
“The symbolism of the 'state of emergency' and its confusion with the 'state of war' that some of us draw in mind continues to frighten, and the question of its denomination must be raised again,” GNI stressed in the statement.
The London-based World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) also stated that while encouraging governments to enhance security measures, it strongly recommends to continue “to create environments that are favourable for travel for leisure and business purposes”.
“Travelers will go to destinations that they perceive as safe, so we urge governments to think carefully about their advisories and further measures, and be as specific when they advise against travel,” the organisation spokesperson told Sputnik when asked whether France should scrap the state of emergency in order to dispel security fears.
PARIS, JE T'AIME... AGAIN
While French authorities were seeking to ease security concerns, the mayor of Paris made a stress on renovation, promotion and re-branding of the capital to woo visitors.
In 2015, Paris and surrounding Ile-de-France region had about 47 million visitors, but following terror attacks, strikes and violent protests the numbers have dropped by about 11 percent. This costs Paris a billion euros a month, according to recent estimations by Valerie Pecresse, head of Ile-de-France regional council.
In early November, the Paris City Hall announced an ambitious 59-point plan for the following six years aimed at assuring that French capital would never lose the position of the most visited city in the world. The plan proposes to reduce waiting time in lines for tickets, introduce better lightening of the most beloved sightseeing and even to allow swimming in the Seine to “affirm the role” of the Parisian nightlife.
Other benevolent intentions of Paris authorities include making city more accessible to disabled visitors by promoting Paris as “Destination for Everyone”, developing “green tourism” by laying more woods, parks, and gardens and last but not least - to justify the city's informal title “Gay Paris” by organising annual events promoting LGBT culture.
At the same time, the City Hall couldn't avoid the issue of security, though not in a connection to terror threats, but regarding robberies. It has proposed to boost security especially for visitors from the Far East who have been regularly targeted by thieves. Numerous attacks on Chinese tourists and Chinese diaspora in Paris led to massive demonstration by Parisians of Chinese origin this summer. The robbery of the US celebrity Kim Kardashian this fall also added concerns about Paris safety.
FRANCE TOURISM PERSPECTIVES
In March 2016, WWTC published a report on influence of four crisis categories on lost of arrivals and their recovery time. It stated that tourism usually bounce back from terror attacks in 13 month, while political unrest, environmental disasters and diseases epidemic in a country may depress the industry for an average of 27 months, 24 months and 21 months respectively.
At the same time data related to relationship between tourism and terrorism greatly varies from country to country. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, after September 11 attacks in 2001, it took six long years before international visits to the United States returned to the previous levels. At the same time, just one year after two major terror attacks on the European soil, the Madrid train bombings in 2004 that killed 191 and July 2005 bombings in London that left 52 dead, tourist arrivals to Spain and the United Kingdom actually increased.
“France is an extremely mature tourism economy and the most visited country in the world,” the WWTC told Sputnik asked about the perspectives of French tourism industry returning to normal.
The Council added that despite macroeconomic downgrades in other European countries and the recent incidents in France their mid-year review suggests that the travel and tourism sector in France will grow by 1.1 percent in 2016, though previous estimations put growth at 2.9 percent.
MKG Group's Panayotis also expressed hopes that tourist industry will prove resilient as 2017 is a odd year which is traditionally better for the hotel industry thanks to major events such as the Bourget AirShow and other trade shows.