Paris tourism re­born af­ter ter­ror dol­drums At­tacks are af­fect­ing tourism for shorter and shorter pe­ri­ods

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

High-kick­ing dancers are en­thralling full houses again at the Moulin Rouge and art lovers are swarm­ing the Lou­vre as Paris en­joys a tourism re­vival af­ter plum­met­ing num­bers brought on by ter­ror at­tacks. Tourists are in­creas­ingly re­fus­ing to give in to fear of be­ing caught up in a ji­hadist at­tack such as the Novem­ber 2015 blood­bath in the French cap­i­tal and flock­ing in droves once more.

In a re­bound that be­gan at the end of 2016, Paris saw a record 2.6 mil­lion for­eign ar­rivals in the first four months of this year-a 19 per­cent in­crease over the same pe­riod in 2016. Top Moulin Rouge of­fi­cial Jean-Vic­tor Clerico shakes his head as he looks back at the “black year” of 2016, when the cav­ernous hall was only three­quar­ters full on an av­er­age night.

The world’s most fa­mous cabaret en­joyed a brief uptick but a se­ries of events-street protests against la­bor re­forms, foul weather, and a truck ram­page in the south­ern city of Nice that claimed 86 lives-com­bined “to com­pletely wipe out the re­cov­ery,” said. Since then ter­ror at­tacks have be­come more fre­quent and wide­spread, hit­ting not just France but also Bel­gium, Bri­tain and Ger­many spark­ing “a kind of fa­tal­ism”, said Josette Sic­sic, head of Touriscopie, a firm that tracks tourist be­hav­ior. As 68-year-old Amer­i­can tourist Rinkie Pollack put it: “If it’s your time, it’s your time.” Vis­it­ing from San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia, the re­tiree said: “There’s nowhere in the world where you’re safe.”

‘The world has changed’

Ter­ror at­tacks “are af­fect­ing tourism for shorter and shorter pe­ri­ods”, Sic­sic said, adding that peo­ple come to Paris telling them­selves: “You have to be vig­i­lant, be­cause ev­ery­one is aware that the world has changed.” The tourism min­istry ex­pects a five to six per­cent in­crease in over­all ar­rivals to France this year, for a new record of 89 mil­lion visi­tors in 2017.

The low­est point for Paris came at the end of March 2016 — four and a half months af­ter the Paris at­tacks, when Is­lamic State group ji­hadists tar­geted or­di­nary peo­ple en­joy­ing an evening out at trendy eater­ies, a con­cert hall and the na­tional sta­dium. The shoot­ings and bomb­ings left 130 peo­ple dead and prompted the govern­ment to im­pose a state of emer­gency-which is still in ef­fect af­ter be­ing re­newed sev­eral times. Some 14.5 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited the cap­i­tal over­all in 2016, a drop of five per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year.

Last year’s tourist num­bers were also af­fected by so­cial un­rest as hun­dreds of thou­sands took to the streets around France in some­times vi­o­lent protests against la­bor re­forms. In ad­di­tion, a re­lent­less se­ries of rob­beries tar­get­ing Asians, es­pe­cially Chi­nese, since 2013 have been a de­ter­rent. But it is Chi­nese tourists, as well as Amer­i­cans, who are ex­pected to set new records this year.

Clerico said “the fear dis­si­pated a lit­tle” as at­tacks mounted in other Euro­pean coun­tries. Twin sui­cide at­tacks in Brus­sels in March 2016 claimed 32 lives, while De­cem­ber of that year saw a truck ram­ming at a Christ­mas mar­ket in Ber­lin that killed 12. The lat­est ve­hi­cle in­ci­dent was in Lon­don in March, when a man ploughed his car into pedes­tri­ans on West­min­ster Bridge, killing five.

‘Seize the mo­ment’

Ni­co­las Le­feb­vre, di­rec­tor of the Paris Tourism Of­fice, like Sic­sic and Clerico, said he thought peo­ple were be­com­ing in­ured to ter­ror­ism. “The con­stant rep­e­ti­tion of these events-there have been sev­eral in a few months, thank­fully less deadly-has made them sort of part of the land­scape, and it no longer stops peo­ple from imag­in­ing, think­ing about, and or­ga­niz­ing a trip to Europe, and to Paris in par­tic­u­lar,” he said.

Sic­sic said po­ten­tial tourists have con­cluded that they “can be hit by a ter­ror­ist act in their coun­try of ori­gin or when trav­el­ling (so) you can’t keep boy­cotting Paris, Lon­don and so on”. En­joy­ing a salad on the ter­race of a Champs-El­y­sees restau­rant, 25-year-old Alexa Derby said she and her fam­ily have “felt pretty safe the whole time we’ve been here.”

Derby, who works as a snorkel boat deck­hand in Hawaii, added: “I mean it (ter­ror­ism) is def­i­nitely on your mind, but what are you go­ing to do? Hide your whole life and not travel?” South African house­wife Su­san So­bel, 64, vis­it­ing Paris for the sec­ond time since 2007, said: “You have to seize the mo­ment and hope­fully you’ll be safe.” How­ever, Bri­tons are con­tribut­ing less to the re­cov­ery be­cause of a fac­tor that has noth­ing to do with ter­ror­ism: their vote to leave the Euro­pean Union has dragged down the pound, mak­ing travel to the Con­ti­nent more ex­pen­sive.

—AFP

PARIS: Two young Asian women jump si­mul­ta­ne­ously for a sou­venir pic­ture near the Eif­fel Tower at the Palais de Chail­lot.

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