PARIS — While the main shopping streets here are decked out in lights and tinsel, experts anticipate a muted and morose holiday season heavy on markdowns as nervous Parisians reel from Friday’s terror attacks that left 129 dead and more than 350 injured.
A Deloitte survey, based on interviews concluded in mid-October, suggested French people had been prepared to slightly increase holiday spending to 577 euros, or $619 at current exchange, with 61 percent of funds earmarked for gifts. That’s a 0.2 percent increase versus a year ago, reflecting a slightly more buoyant French economy and the prospect of heavy discounting.
But analysts predict that, following the attacks last week, it will take some time for spending habits to normalize.
“Considering that we are in mid-November, this timing is very bad for Christmas shopping at full price, and therefore we can expect a more intense markdown season,” said Mario Ortelli, luxury analyst at Bernstein.
He said consumers are likely to be wary of crowded locations like malls and shops “and e-commerce can only partially offset it.”
Tourist flows are also likely to dip.
“In these weeks, many Chinese are planning their trip abroad for the Chinese New Year [in February] and, as you can imagine, they could prefer Asian destinations to Europe,” Ortelli said, noting that Paris normally boasts one of the highest spends in luxury goods per tourist in the world.
As of October, France ranked as the largest market for tax-free shopping sales in the world, according to Global Blue, a company best known for VAT/GST refunds to tourists.
October registered a 5 percent increase in total store sales in France versus the same month a year ago, according to Global Blue tallies.
Analysts at Citi suggested that 9/11 in the U.S. would be the most relevant point of comparison when measuring the impact on consumer confidence and spending in the aftermath of Friday’s attacks. While the shootings at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in January left no discernible bump on the economy, consumer confidence fell sharply in the months of September and October 2001, they observed.
“But it is probable that the impact could be more severe this time, especially if there were more attacks and therefore greater disruption to business activity from enhanced border controls,” Citi’s chief global economist Tina Fordham wrote in a note.
Fordham stressed the importance of tourism for the French economy. Both tourism and travel services “are the sectors where we would expect to see the largest adverse impact, with some substitution effects toward other destinations, perhaps elsewhere in France away from Paris, but more likely benefiting other European capitals, unless the phenomenon were to spread to other countries,” she said.
Following Friday’s attacks, the city’s hotel occupancy rate dropped by 20.8 and 23.1 points on Nov. 14 and Nov. 15, respectively, according to the latest MKG Hospitality data. Hotel occupancy rates within Paris across all price points were 65 and 45 percent on Nov. 14 and Nov. 15, respectively. By comparison, it was 94 percent during the most recent Paris Fashion Week, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 7.
MKG Hospitality predicts a drop of 10 percent in the occupancy rate until the end of the year. The COP 21 — the United Nations’ climate conference slated to go ahead as planned from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Le Bourget, outside Paris — has generated hotel requests from delegations, according to MKG Group chief operating officer Vanguelis Panayotis, who added the situation could be completely different if new attacks happen in coming days.
Eurostar passenger traffic was negatively impacted by the January terrorist attacks in Paris. Those events and exchange-rate fluctuations caused sales revenues to decline 6 percent in the three months to March 31, to reach 227 million pounds, or $343.9 million at average exchange for the period. On a constant-currency basis, revenues in the period dipped just 1 percent, according to a statement from the high-speed passenger rail service between the U.K. and mainland Europe.
“Whilst January was challenging, trading returned to a more normalized pattern in the course of the quarter,” the company stated.
Tourism accounted for 7.1 percent of total employment in France in 2012, while exports of travel services stood at $57 billion in 2013, according to the World Trade Organization, third only to the U.S. with $173 billion and Spain with $63 billion. These services represent 2 percent of French gross domestic product.
Citi’s Fordham nevertheless expects the economic consequences of the attacks to “likely be modest,” though “the risks to our 2016 France 1.4 percent real GDP forecast are likely skewed to the downside.”
“On the negative side, household confidence will likely be affected — at least temporarily — and a number of shopping days could be lost. On the positive side, from a GDP standpoint, we expect extra spending on policing, private security and military intervention in coming months and quarters. We suspect that the European Commission would wave through fiscal expansion up to a fairly high limit,” she said, adding: “The main uncertainty is whether other attacks will materialize in the coming weeks/months, not only in France, but perhaps in neighboring countries that are on the ISIS target list.”
Ortelli cited a small consolation for luxury goods firms, already beset by weak Chinese demand and adapting to a more moderate pace of growth: They would benefit from higher margins if Americans and Asian consumers shift consumption back to their home countries.
He also predicted that in the next few months, airlines, tour operators and hotels are likely to cut prices to stimulate tourist flows to Europe. “But they will be probably more appealing for lower-budget tourists with lower spending in luxury goods, therefore is a small mitigant,” he said.
Thomas Deschamps, statistics research manager of the Paris tourist and convention office, said it was too soon to predict how tourism will be affected by Friday’s events. “It’s an unprecedented situation,” he said.
From January to August 2015, there were 10.2 million hotel arrivals in Paris, up 0.1 percent compared to the same period in 2014. Before Friday’s attacks, Deschamps was expecting the number of hotel arrivals for the full year to be at least on par with last year, when they were 15.5 million. “The months of September and October have been very good,” he noted.
In the same nine-month period, the number of Chinese visitors in Paris was up 53 percent. “There is a great appetite for Paris as a shopping destination,” said Deschamps, who added that the January attacks targeted the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for cartoons deemed offensive to Islam and tourists still felt safe in Paris. “This time is different; [attacks] were carried out in the streets, restaurants and a concert hall. The last week of December will be key: Are people planning to come to Paris for the holiday period?”
The slam to consumer sentiment comes at a delicate juncture for the domestic fashion industry.
The French Women’s Ready-to-Wear Federation forecasts that sales in France will stabilize or increase slightly in 2015 after seven consecutive years of decline. This comes thanks to an increase in French households’ purchasing power.
Sales of women’s ready-to-wear fell 0.7 percent in value terms in the first eight months of 2015 versus the same period a year earlier, with French women spending 6.7 billion euros, or $7.4 billion at average exchange, on clothing, as reported. Meanwhile, overall clothing sales, including men’s wear and children’s wear, were down 0.4 percent.
Canceled fashion events continue to pile up. Coach, which was to host a prom-themed party Thursday night complete with performances to celebrate its first Paris flagship, which opened in September, has postponed its event “until further notice.”
An annual charity event here around Christmas trees, marking its 20th edition this year and scheduled for Friday, has been canceled. The designer creations will still go on display on Nov. 21, 24 and 26 from noon to 6 p.m. central eastern time at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Chanel, Christian Dior and Emanuel Ungaro are among houses that created the 33 trees for auction. Last year, the event raised more than 70,000 euros, or around $75,374 at current exchange, for cancer research.
The Comité Champs-Elysées, which had enlisted “The Artist” actor Jean Dujardin to flick on the holiday lights along the famous street on Wednesday night, nixed the event.
French magazines have also made adjustments in the wake of the state of emergency in France and an ongoing manhunt.
Elle France, whose 70th anniversary issue was due out Thursday, is postponing it to Dec.15. (Elle France’s first issue dates back to Nov. 21, 1945.) This week, the title is to publish a 68-page issue dedicated to Paris’ attacks, with no advertising, slated to hit newsstands on Friday. “It includes reportage, stories of survivors, exclusive sketches of designers. We want to portray Paris alive and to bring hope, as Elle has always been doing,” Elle France editor in chief Françoise-Marie Santucci told WWD.
Most weekly magazines, including Elle’s sister publication Paris Match, and L’Obs advanced their publication dates, due to the attacks.
By contrast, GQ France has postponed its December/January issue featuring a new layout to Friday from Wednesday as originally planned. The magazine canceled its Men of the Year party originally scheduled on Wednesday, as reported.
Charlie Hebdo revealed on Tuesday the cover of its Wednesday issue featuring a sketch by illustrator Coco, with a headline reading, “They have the guns. Screw them, we have Champagne.” The man is dancing on his feet, his body riddled with bullets, pouring Champagne.
During the night between Sunday and Monday, France’s army continued carrying out attacks on ISIS strongholds in Syria. The raid on two targets included 10 planes and 16 bombs. Since Sunday, four targets have been hit, according to France’s Ministry of Defense on Twitter.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, during an interview on radio channel France Info on Tuesday morning, said 128 raids had been made on suspected militants overnight. He further specified 115,000 police, gendarmes and military personnel have been deployed on the French territory.
Also on Tuesday morning, European defense ministers unanimously backed the request of France for aid and assistance in accordance with the European Union’s treaty’s self-defense clause. Specifically, article 42.7 obliges governments to help a member state that is the victim of armed aggression on its soil. It’s an article that has never before been invoked.
France’s President François Hollande is due to meet in Washington, D.C., with President Obama on Nov. 24 and with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Nov. 26, according to the presidency’s Twitter feed. As reported, during Hollande’s address to a joint session of Parliament in the Palais of Versailles on Monday evening, he expressed hopes to forge a coalition with the leaders against the Islamic State in Syria.
On Tuesday, Hollande met with John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, and also with Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, prime minister of Qatar.