By Ingrid Melander
PARIS (Reuters) - In tight-knit groups with their backpacks hanging in front where they can keep an eye on them, Chinese tourists walked around Paris on their guard on Monday, alarmed by a recent mugging and other attacks targeting Asian visitors.
"We like Paris but we are a bit scared," Chinese tour guide Jenny Xu said as she lead a group around the department store district hours after China's foreign ministry said France needed to step up security after a high-profile robbery.
"Chinese tourists, they are afraid for their safety in Paris," said Xu, speaking in English as she recounted some of her own clients experiences of being mugged in shops or museums.
"We tell them again and again to have their bags in front of them. And I tell them not to take so much cash."
France has in the past promised to do more to protect the safety of Chinese tourists, who come to Paris in ever larger numbers and have become more of a target for the cash they often carry and the luxury goods they buy.
Last week, a group of 40 Chinese tourists was tear-gassed and robbed by four men in the parking lot of their hotel near Orly airport, south of Paris.
While the muggings are not good for the city's reputation, and tourism was hit hard by the Islamist attacks of 2015, Paris still attracted 16 million visitors in the first half of 2017, making it one of the most popular cities in the world.
Chang Hui Ying, a tour operator from Taiwan who leads Chinese and Taiwanese groups across Europe, said Paris was the city where she was most worried about client safety.
"One hour ago, when I was leaving the Louvre museum, two girls opened my bag and I was almost robbed," she said, adding that once a whole week's worth of wages was stolen from her bag in the French capital.
"There really are a lot of thieves," she said. "But they still want to come. We like to shop here," she said as she led a group to a store especially dedicated to Chinese visitors which the Galeries Lafayette chain opened earlier this year.
Tourists said they were taking extra precautions.
"We put a small wallet somewhere and more money deeper inside (our bag), and the bag always in front," said Chang Hui-Neng, speaking English with the help of her guide.
A group of hoteliers deplored last week's mugging and called for more protection. "More needs to be done to avoid such tragic events that have a lot of impact on Paris' image and that of France as a tourism destination," UMIH said in a statement.
With no backpack or shopping bags that would mark her as a tourist, 23-year-old Chinese student Wang Xi Qing, who has been living in France for 18 months, said she knew here way around and felt comfortable.
But she said she tells friends who visit to be careful, especially since one of them got mugged in Notre Dame cathedral. "It's important to be aware," she said.
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)