PARIS — “It’s not good news. We could have done without it,” said Nicolas Lefebvre, managing director of Paris’ tourist and convention office, referring to the alert issued by the U.S. State Department on Tuesday that raised the threat level of potential terrorist attacks throughout Europe this summer.
As reported, the State Department has cautioned Americans traveling to Europe of the potential for attacks at major events, tourist sites, restaurants and commercial and transportation centers.
The alert is the latest blow to Paris, which is already suffering from dwindling tourism and the difficult social climate, with transport strikes and demonstrations against the Socialist government’s proposed labor law likely to continue. At Air France, the threat of a pilots’ strike is shaping up for June.
The warning expires at the end of August, and has set U.S. tourists and the fashion world on edge. It came a few weeks before the Paris men’s and couture collections, which are set to take place from June 22 to 26 and July 3 to July 7, respectively.
“We don’t move an iota. We stay on course and maintain the highest level of vigilance,” said Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode.
“We remain on the same level of security that we’ve been [during men’s and couture weeks] in January after the November attacks. We work in tight collaboration with the Interior Ministry,” he added. Morand doesn’t expect the latest warning to have a significant impact on attendance at the upcoming men’s and couture weeks since the shows are trade events.
But the warning could take a toll on attendance at the UEFA Euro 2016 soccer tournament, set to take place in Paris and other French cities from June 10 to July 10, and the Tour de France cycling race, scheduled from July 2 to 24.
“We are counting a lot on the Euro 2016 championship. The tournament was for us the opportunity to move on, to get away from Paris’ tarnished image and put on the festive face on Paris,” Lefebvre of Paris’ tourist and convention office said.
However, he noted this is not the first alert issued by the State Department, and the impacts of the warning issued after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris were moderate.
“The American clientele hasn’t reacted too badly,” he said, explaining that the decrease of the number of visitors from the U.S. was less than the average decline of tourist footfall from around the world – overall – since the November attacks.
“The terrorist risk is now part of the picture, and we saw an unparalleled demonstration of solidarity coming out of America,” continued Lefebvre, adding he doesn’t expect the alarm to spread to other countries either.
The Première Vision Paris trade fair will launch Blossom Première Vision dedicated to pre-collections and targeting luxury brands on July 6 and 7 at the Palais Brongniart in Paris. “We don’t have the necessary distance [to gauge the impact on attendance of the fair]. It’s our inaugural edition,” said Gilles Lasbordes, PV’s executive director. Americans typically make up 3.5 percent of the Première Vision fair, which runs Sept. 13 to 15.
Vanguelis Panayotis, director of development at MKG Hospitality, a research firm for the hotel and tourism industry, said sarcastically: “We can thank our American friends for that [warning]. The Nov. 13 effect has been amplified by the [Brussels attacks’] March 22 effect. From outside Europe, Paris and Brussels [seem] very linked, especially since there were connections between the terror attacks in the two cities. We returned to the same high-time lows as after November. Activity in April has been very bad, so we don’t expect the Euro tournament to have a strong positive effect. The sector is suffering severely. It’s Murphy’s law with the attacks, the gas shortage, strikes, unfavorable [early] Easter holiday calendar and now the travel warning. Americans make up the largest foreign clientele. That being said, there’s no point being all gloom and doom. We’re hoping a return to [tourist] growth in September, with an uptick in the French economy.”
In mid-May, the French parliament extended the country’s post-attacks state of emergency until the end of July in order to cover the UEFA tournament and the Tour de France.
Axel Dumas, chief executive officer of Hermès International, said tourism had recovered slightly in London and Milan in January and February, but Paris was lagging since the Nov. 13 attacks.
“Tourism has not returned and I must say that as long as there is the state of emergency, some of our very good customers don’t feel secure enough to come and are not coming,” he said at the company’s annual general meeting in Paris on Tuesday.
Paris remained the world’s leading tourist destination in 2015, with 16 million visitors. But the Nov. 13 attacks continue to weigh on the number of visitors. In the first quarter of this year, the hotel occupancy rate in the French capital was 57.3 percent, down 7.7 points compared to the prior year.
Also in the first quarter, the level of Japanese tourists dropped 56 percent; Italians, 24 percent, and Russians, 35 percent, according to the Paris Ile-de-France Regional Tourism Committee, or CRT Paris Ile-de-France. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese visitors decreased 13.9 percent, versus their 49 percent increase in full-year 2015.
Americans are an important market for luxury retailers. In April, the number of U.S. global shoppers rose 10 percent year-over-year compared with declines in other major nations (Chinese were down 19 percent and Russians down 21 percent), according to Global Blue data. Also in April, France has also seen a 23 percent decrease in destination Tax Free Shopping spend (the U.K. was down 1 percent and Italy down 8 percent.).
“The visibility of the global luxury market remains low, particularly because of the recent travel warning issued by the U.S. State Department. However, we expect to see a progressive rebound starting this summer,” said Jacques Stern, Global Blue president and ceo.