Attack in Nice a new strike against French tourism

A Republican Guard lowers the French national flag at half-mast at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on July 15, 2016.
A Republican Guard lowers the French national flag at half-mast at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on July 15, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - In striking the jewel of the French Riviera on a national holiday the truck attack on Nice delivered a new blow to France’s tourism sector already reeling from repeated terror attacks.

On Friday (July 15), cultural events across France were cancelled or postponed as a mark of respect for the 84 people killed when a gunman drove a 19-tonne truck into a crowd of revellers following Bastille Day fireworks the previous evening.

President Francois Hollande declared the incident a “terrorist” attack and added some 50 people injured were still fighting for their lives.

The target of the attack was a top tourist destination: the palm-lined Promenade des Anglais on the Mediterranean seafront in the city which is the number two destination in France behind Paris.

As France mourned, the United Nations’ tourism chief urged holiday makers to express solidarity by visiting the country to defy “terrorists”.

“This is the time to go visit France,” the World Tourism Organisation’s Secretary-General Taleb Refai told reporters on a visit to Sri Lanka.

Refai described Thursday’s outrage as a “global disease” and said there was no place on earth that was immune from attack.

But he insisted: “We cannot punish the victims and reward the aggressors by not travelling to places affected, because that is exactly what these terrorists want us to do.” The attack was the third major strike against France in less than 18 months.

It came eight months after Islamic State gunmen and suicide bombers attacked bars, restaurants, a concert hall and the national stadium in Paris, killing 130 people. In January last year 17 were killed in another attack at various sites including the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris.

Georges Panayotis, head of the MKG hotel and tourism consultancy, said the repeated attacks were a major cause for concern.

“This is no longer a classic terrorism situation where a couple of months is enough following an attack for economic activity to recover,” said Panayotis.

The successive attacks and high number of victims “will dissuade tourists for a certain time”.

The French government had just held this week its first meeting of a special government-industry committee headed by Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to try to find ways to help the sector recover.

The number of tourists arriving on regular flights has fallen by 5.8 percent since January, including by 11 percent in Paris.

The number of hotel nights foreigners spend in Paris is expected to be down around 20 percent for the prime summer season, tourism minister Matthias Fekl said in a recent interview with TourMag.

The tourism industry is critically important for France, the world’s top tourism destination, which welcomed nearly 84.5 million visitors last year. The sector accounts for 7 percent of the economy and directly and indirectly employs two million people.

Travel sector shares took a beating on Friday, including shares in hotel group AccorHotels and Europcar rental agency, which both fell around 4 per cent in a Paris market down around 0.8 per cent overall.

The attack on Nice may nip in the bud an increase in tourists to destinations outside Paris, which was partially supported by France’s successful hosting of the Euro 2016 football championships in June and July.

Tourist arrivals by plane outside of Paris were up by 11 per cent in the first 10 days of July, thanks in part to a jump in last minute travellers from a number of European nations.

“We’ve had a flood of cancellations since last night,” said Denis Cippoloni, head of the hotel association in Nice.

“I went near the Promenade des Anglais this morning,” he told AFP. “Usually it is lively and animated, but silence reigned.” Organisers of several events that usually draw large numbers of tourists have changed their schedules.

At the 56th edition of the Jazz at Juan de Juan-les-Pins near Nice, all concerts from Friday to Monday have been cancelled.

All events in the parallel Jazz Off festival, held in Nice and nearby Antibes, have also been cancelled as have several weekend firework displays.