One year after attacks, tourism struggles to recover in France

One year after attacks, tourism struggles to recover in France

On the one-year anniversary of terror attacks that killed
130 in Paris, France’s tourism industry is struggling to recover from the
cumulative effects of those attacks, followed by attacks in Brussels and the
Bastille Day killings in Nice.

“Bookings seemed to be slowly rebounding in the early
part of the year after the shock of the Nov. 13 deadly attacks in Paris,”
said Yolande Kamins, a France specialist at the Los Angeles-based Enchanted
France agency. “Then came Nice’s massacre on the Promenade des Anglais in
July, and bookings dropped significantly. I compensated by booking more of
Spain and Italy.”

Kamins added that the presidential campaign in the U.S. didn’t
help because it kept clients in a “wait and see” mode. But, she said,
since the election last Tuesday, “I feel like bookings to France are
picking up a bit for end-of-year travel and for 2017. I think people are
getting used to the idea of traveling despite the possibility of terror attacks
anywhere in the world. It is becoming a fact of life. I’m confident that 2017
will see a surge in travel to Paris and other France destinations.”

France managed to record a record year in tourism last year
despite the Paris attacks, welcoming 85 million foreign visitors, 3.6 million
of whom were Americans, according to Atout France, the country’s tourism
development agency. Those 85 million represented a 4.2% increase over the
country’s 2014 figures, enabling France to maintain its claim to being the No.
1 tourism destination in the world by arrivals.

The U.S. ranked No. 2, with 77.5 million arrivals in 2015,
followed by Spain, with 68.2 million.

France was off to a promising start in early 2016. Incoming
flights were up 4% in the first quarter of 2016, and flights to Paris were up
3.1%, according to ARC numbers provided by Atout France.

But by the second quarter, flights to France were down a
little over 1%, and those to Paris were down nearly 4%. Atout France did not
have overall flight figures for the third quarter, but based on ARC data for
flights from the U.S. to France, it reported that departures were flat in July
and slightly down in August and September.

Travel insurer Allianz Global Assistance reported that the
outlook for the holiday season was shaping up to be no better. The company
reviewed more than 650,000 Americans’ travel plans during the peak holiday
travel season, Thanksgiving through New Year’s, and found a significant decline
in the number of travelers planning to visit Paris.

According to Allianz, there was a moderate increase in
customers who purchased insurance with the company for travel to Paris in the
summer vacation season. But it saw a 12.8% decline, to 70,000 travelers, for
the 2016 winter holiday season.

Turning a new leaf in 2017

Despite some of the discouraging numbers for 2016, French
tourism officials say hope is on the horizon for 2017.

In an email, Atout France stated, “The outlook for 2017
is positive. Early bookings for agencies and tour operators we monitor show
encouraging trends.”

The tourism agency went on to say it was hoping that a host
of new hotel openings, especially in Paris, as well as numerous notable museum
exhibitions and cultural events will help reignite bookings to France.

For example, this year the Cite du Vin, a center devoted to
wine production, opened in Bordeaux, a city that, unlike Paris and Nice,
actually saw its visitor numbers increase in 2016.

“The travel and consumer press continued to cover
France, showing their confidence in our destination,” Atout France stated.
“And although Paris and Nice showed decreases, other urban destinations
showed increases, like Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille.”

And despite the challenges, France remains a top travel
destination, according to James Phillips, president of the wholesaler
TravelBound.

“France still continues to be one of our top
destinations for the rest of the year and well into 2017,” Phillips said. “Even
though we did see a decrease in overall bookings to Europe compared to previous
years, Paris remains a top contender.”

He noted that TravelBound is hoping to further encourage a
2017 France and Europe rebound by incentivizing agents with a bonus commission
program that it launched in October for all bookings made for travel to Europe
in the first quarter of 2017.

“We are already seeing a positive booking trend, with a
20% growth in room nights booked during the first week the incentive was
announced,” Phillips said. “For France, specifically, bookings grew
by 56% during the last week of October compared to the first week the incentive
was announced.”

For 2017, he said, the outlook seems to point to a
shortening of the booking window with an increase in “stickiness,”
meaning that travelers are booking later but are more serious about actually
making those trips once they are booked.

Phillips echoed a sentiment voiced by many who sell France,
which is that, ultimately, the country will bounce back.

“We’re optimistic that France will rebound in 2017,
albeit slowly,” he said.

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