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French Luxury Chief Calls for Action on Crime

Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes sounded the alarm, saying Paris is gaining a reputation as unsafe.

PARIS — The head of France’s top luxury association on Friday called for government action after a spate of high-profile robberies that is denting the country’s image among tourists.

Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, president of Comité Colbert, said the French capital is rapidly gaining a reputation for “total insecurity” after a rash of incidents targeting mainly Asian tourists. She called on French Interior Minister Manuel Valls to take rapid action to restore public order.

“The minister has to respond with the adequate measures,” Ponsolle des Portes said at an annual news conference held by the organization, which represents brands such as Cartier, Chanel, Hermès and Louis Vuitton, in addition to leading hotels such as the Bristol and the Plaza Athenée.

“We are getting feedback from all of our houses and their customers that they now truly perceive Paris as unsafe,” she added. “It is our role to sound the alert, because tourism is a significant source of income for our city, so this insecurity today represents a direct attack on employment in Paris.”

Workers at the Louvre museum went on strike in April to protest against the growing number of aggressive pickpockets who threaten guards and attack tourists, especially Asians, who are reputed to carry large amounts of cash to spend on luxury goods.

There have been several reports of thieves targeting Chinese tour groups. The capital’s reputation was further tarnished by a video showing hooligans pillaging a tourist bus earlier this month during the violence that marred a trophy parade for soccer club Paris-Saint-Germain, following its first French league win in 19 years.

Meanwhile, a crime wave has hit the Cannes film festival, with thieves making off with a reported $1 million in Chopard jewels and a $2.6 million de Grisogono necklace. China Film Group vice president Zhang Quiang had luggage stolen from his apartment, prompting him to tweet: “This film festival is not worth mentioning!”

France is the world’s top tourist destination, attracting 79.5 million visitors in 2011, according to the most recent data published by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

Ponsolle des Portes said luxury executives were worried that bad press would turn off Asian tourists, by far the biggest spenders.

“We would not want this Asian tourism, which is largely driven by shopping, to move to Milan or London because Paris is seen as too risky,” she said. “As a Frenchwoman, to have people describing Paris as the emblem of insecurity is something I find extremely regrettable.”