The City of Light asks its visitors for resilience.
Even as security experts say fear of another terrorist attack is largely “not rational,” France is feeling the effects of a perception of fear.
The summer season has long been a frustrating moment for Parisian locals—the majority of whom take off for summer escapes in the Normand countryside or the Atlantic coast near Biarritz—as tourists descend upon the city.
But this summer has been markedly different, with the entire city, including major landmarks like the Louvre museum and the Eiffel Tower, noticeably scarcer. The series of deadly terror attacks in France in the past two years, coupled with major flooding and national strikes, have pushed many tourists to opt for other European destinations.
The decrease in tourism to the Paris region caused a loss of around €750 million—or about $846.1 million—in revenue from January to June, the Parisian tourism board announced earlier this week. Tourism is an especially important industry in the French economy, as it generates 7 percent of the country’s GDP.
French tourism professionals are not giving up without a fight, however, and have vowed to combat this period of reduced tourist activity by educating the public about the reality on the ground.
“The challenge now will be to inform tourism professionals about the security situation,” Francois Navarro, managing director of Paris Region Tourist Board, told Travel + Leisure. Navarro is planning a trip to the U.S. in the fall to speak with industry professionals about the steps the city has taken to protect itself.
“A return to normality is very important,” he said.
Less than a year after a series of coordinated attacks rocked the French capital, terror struck again along the Riviera in July when 85 people were killed in an attack in Nice. The southern French city is more than 500 miles from Paris, but the fear of further terror threats has caused many tourists to cancel their travel plans to one of the top visited cities in the world.
Tourist hotspots such as the Grand Palais and the Arc de Triomphe saw staggering drops in their visitor numbers—43.9 percent and 34.8 percent respectively.
Japanese tourists accounted for the largest change in visits, decreasing by 46.5 percent in comparison with the same period in 2015. Russian visitors dropped by 35 percent, and Chinese by 19.6 percent. U.S. citizens were the least deterred: The number of visitors from the U.S. dipped by 5.7 percent.
The paranoia of travelers and their avoidance of the City of Light is largely unfounded, experts said.
“The fear of terrorism is not something rational,” said Axel Dyèvre, a former French military officer and director of the European Strategic Intelligence Company. A person’s odds of being murdered still remained about five times higher in the U.S. than in France, he noted.
“Europe remains a primary target of terrorism,” said Elie Tenenbaum, a defense analyst at the French Institute on International Relations. “The threat is the same as it was a year ago, but the security has augmented.”
Thousands of officers have been added to patrols in the streets both since the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015 and then again after the November attacks. Intelligence authorities carried out 2,000 raids and arrested several hundred people on suspicion of terrorism or plotting terror attacks in the weeks and months following November’s attacks.
While arrests do not always equate increased safety, the threat of another attack is certainly over-exaggerated, both Dyèvre and Tenenbaum said.
The summer of 2016 stands in contrast to 2015, which seemed to show the resilience of France’s appeal to foreign tourists.
The summer tourist season in 2015 began just months after a massacre at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in which 11 people were gunned down by a pair of avowed Islamic extremists. Yet the number of overall tourists to France increased slightly in 2015, up by 0.9 percent from 2014 to 84.5 million visitors, according to Associated Press.
Visitors to the capital must continue to embody this spirit of resilience, forging Paris into a symbol not of fear but of possibility, according to Navarro, from the Paris Tourist Board.
“In people’s hearts, Paris is in a league of its own,” he said. “The gastronomy, the culture, the shopping: It’s a mix of everything people want when they travel.”
“That’s why we need to fight to win back this [lost] clientele.”