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The Champs Elysées in Paris is normally packed with tourists at this time of year. But this month however, the French capital’s iconic thoroughfare was noticeably short of the crowds of summer visitors.
Some of the biggest tourist attractions in Paris have reported a staggering drop in visitor numbers, including the Grand Palais (-43.9 percent), The Arc de Triomphe (-34.8 percent) and the Château de Versailles (-16.3 percent), according to the Paris region tourist board.
The number of Japanese visitors was down a huge 46.5 percent compared with the same period in 2015, local officials said. There were also 35 percent fewer Russian visitors, 19.6 percent fewer Chinese and American tourist numbers were down 5.7 percent.
“It’s time to realise that the tourism sector is going through an industrial disaster. This is no longer the time for communication campaigns but to set up a relief plan,” Frédéric Valletoux, head of the Paris region tourist board said in a statement.
France’s battered image
Tourism in France accounts for a massive 7 percent of the country’s gross national product, and 13 percent in the Ile-de-France region which includes Paris, the world’s most visited city.
But the industry has taken a big hit since gunmen linked to the Islamic State group killed 130 people in a series of coordinated attacks on November 13, 2015.
France’s image took a further blow when an attacker drove a truck through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day on July 14, 2016, in Nice. Just two weeks later, two men murdered a priest as he was leading a service in a small town in Normandy.
It wasn’t just terrorism that shook France in 2016. Massive, sometimes violent, industrial action against a controversial employment law and severe flooding in the first half of 2016 also made international headlines and deterred tourists.
Tour guides’ anger
Paris tour guide James, who asked FRANCE 24 not to publish his family name or to identify the international tour operator he works for, said his personal revenue had fallen 50 percent in 2016 and called on the government to “get serious” about the terrorist threat.
James, a Canadian who has worked as a tour guide in Paris for the last 20 years, said there was despair among his fellow guides at the perceived “defeatist attitude” of a government that told French citizens after the July 14 attack in Nice they “had to get used to terrorism”.
“The US beefed up its security after 9/11, as did the Brits after 7/7, France needs to do the same, and publicly,” he said. “Those tourists who have come have all told me they feel incredibly safe here, and it’s only the bag searches and the occasional patrol of soldiers that reminds them there is a security situation at all. They even make the tourists feels safer.”
Despite being frustrated at a lack of what he sees as a visible response to the terror threat, James is cautiously optimistic.
“We [Paris] have survived two World Wars, we’ve had more revolutions than you can shake a stick at and Paris always comes through with her irresistible grace and charm,” he told FRANCE 24. “The City of Light will never be put out, but we should not take France’s hard-won values for granted. They, like Paris, should be fiercely protected.”
Hospitality professionals are also optimistic about the future, AFP reported, with 64 percent of hotels reporting better bookings for September.