Paris attacks: Flight bookings, travel stocks fall as warnings on terrorism rise

A pedestrian with an umbrella pauses in front of the memorial of candles and flowers for the victims of the Nov 13 Paris attacks, on Place de la Republique in Paris, France, on Nov 24, 2015.
A pedestrian with an umbrella pauses in front of the memorial of candles and flowers for the victims of the Nov 13 Paris attacks, on Place de la Republique in Paris, France, on Nov 24, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (Reuters) - Heightened travel risks stemming from the recent militant attacks in Paris have depressed flight bookings to the French capital and other destinations, sending travel stocks lower as fears grow of a lengthy slump.

Adding to the concern, the United States State Department issued a global travel alert on Monday (Nov 23), warning that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other groups "continue to plan terrorist attacks", and urging citizens to "exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals and events".

The unrest is causing leisure and business travellers to cancel or reconsider travel, with spillover to other travel services, experts said.

New flight bookings to Paris, one of the world's most-visited cities, fell 27 per cent in the Nov 14 to Nov 21 period from a year ago, travel information firm ForwardKeys said on Tuesday.

The decline followed coordinated attacks in Paris on Nov 13 that killed 130 people. Cancellations came mostly from leisure travelers, said ForwardKeys, which processes data from 14 million global flight reservations a day.

The US-based Business Travel Coalition said a survey last week found 35 per cent of its members would curb travel to or within Europe if it appeared more attacks were being planned. "This week there's even more caution than last week," said Mr Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the organisation, which has 300 members from 17 countries.

"Companies are hitting the pause button on travel" and telling employees they can choose not to go.

Other groups reported cancellations by tour operators and efforts by some wealthy Chinese tourists to avoid Paris.

"People are shifting their destinations away from Paris and France to other locations in Europe, such as Germany, that are viewed as under less threat," said Mr Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.Org, a US consumer advocacy group with 60,000 members.

US airlines were not reporting changes to schedules, said a spokesman for trade group Airlines For America. The group did not have numbers on travel cancellations. Delta Air Lines, which is not a member, said it was "premature to share specific numbers".

Ms Jennifer Michels, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), said a poll of members found customers were not delaying or canceling travel to and from Europe.

"Many ASTA members tell us that travelers really are not as concerned as you would think, and they are receiving little to no phone calls or concerned requests for more information," Ms Michels said in an email.

Other indicators, such as falling travel prices, point to slack demand, Mr Mitchell said.

"When hotels go on sale in Paris, that means somebody's not flying there," he said.

Low-cost European carrier easyJet said on Tuesday it had seen a "cooling off" in demand for travel to France.

Air France has experienced some reduction in traffic following the attacks, but it was too early to quantify, a company source said last week.

Airline and travel stocks fell sharply on Tuesday. Air France was down 3.9 per cent and easyjet down 3.2 per cent.

On Wall Street, United Continental Holdings Inc closed down 3 per cent at US$56.80, Delta Air Lines Inc fell 3 per cent to US$47.24 and American Airlines lost 2.5 per cent to US$41.23.

Expedia.com fell 2.9 per cent to US$121.27 and Priceline Group dropped 1.9 per cent to US$1,240.18.

ForwardKeys said bookings for the Christmas period were trailing last year's level by 13 percent. It said cancellations spiked 21 per cent in the week after the Paris attacks, compared with the same period last year.

In recent days, the level of cancellations had stabilised at about the same level as last year as airlines stopped offering free rebooking, it added.

But "booking trends are not yet showing signs of recovery", ForwardKeys Chief Executive Olivier Jager said in an interview. "It's going to take many months."