Paris tourism slumps in wake of attacks

AP News
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Posted: Nov 23, 2015 12:05 PM
Paris tourism slumps in wake of attacks

PARIS (AP) — The attacks in Paris are having a major impact on tourism, initial figures show, pushing the French prime minister to meet industry officials to come up with a plan to limit the damage and keep visitors coming to the City of Light.

Ten days after the carnage, the deadliest since WWII, museum ticket sales have plummeted. There are none of the usual lines of people waiting to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Though Parisians have put on a brave face since the attacks, which targeted entertainment spots like cafes and a concert hall, tourists are shying away. Those that do come notice a strange, oppressive mood.

"You can really feel how nervous and scared people are," said 40-year-old South African Shaun Bruwer. He was at a train station when the sound of a pigeon getting electrocuted on the tracks "sent people running in all directions."

The Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay museums, two of the most popular spots on the Paris tourist circuit flanking the Seine river, told The Associated Press they've both recorded a 30 percent drop in visitors compared with the week before the Nov. 13 attacks. The Pompidou, the main museum of modern art, says ticket sales have halved.

Business activity in the wider economy was also slowing in November, according to a survey published Monday by financial data company Markit.

The health of the tourism sector is crucial for central Paris, as it employs almost 200,000 people out of a population of just over two million people. More than 22 million people stayed in hotels in 2013, the latest available figures from the government.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls was meeting Monday with representatives from tour operators, travel agencies, hotels, restaurants as well as travel companies such as Air France, to find a short-term plan to boost the industry.

The meeting will also look for ways to tailor the marketing of Paris as a holiday destination for tourists fearful of a repeat of the attacks that killed 130 people and left hundreds more injured.

Even as airlines operated a normal schedule of flights into and out of Paris, many travelers with plans to visit the French capital have reconsidered their options, a worrisome sign for the travel and tourism industries.

Joe Nardozzi, a 31-year-old New York investment banker, and his wife won't be taking the wedding-anniversary trip they planned later this month.

"I have no interest in losing my life over a trip to Paris," he said.

Blake Fleetwood, president of New York-based Cook Travel, said about 10 customers out of the roughly 30 with trips booked to Paris told him they want to cancel.

Tourism to the French capital already took a hit earlier this year after attacks by Islamic extremists in January on a satirical magazine and a Jewish market. The number of hotel stays fell 3.3 percent in the first three months of the year.

Economists say that attacks of this kind tend to have a short-term impact, but that tourism tends to rebound.

It's still too soon to say how big or lasting an impact the November attacks will have.

Marie Jensen, a 22-year old from Denmark, made it a point of following through with her four-day trip, in part as an act of defiance against the attackers.

"I came because I don't want terrorists to control what I do," she said. "Yes, it feels a little strange. But if I hadn't come, they'd have won."

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Pan Pylas in London contributed to this report.