French Tourism Still Isn’t 100%, But It’s Getting There

It’s taking a long time for France to rebound after the grisly terrorist attacks, first on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and then, last November, in a coordinated attack in Paris that hit several spots but focused on a packed concert hall.

To clarify: It didn’t take long for the spirit of France to rebound after the attacks. Even as officials warned locals and tourists alike to seek shelter inside, piles of flowers and candles were laid out before vigils that attracted hundreds.

Many tourists chose to stay in France following the attacks or to continue their plans to visit the country as a way of showing support. Sure, most of the popular tourist traps were closed by the government, but independent business owners still had to make a living and re-open.

But many French tourism officials have been worried, especially following the November attacks.

As the Financial Times reported that immediately following the attacks, many businesses in Paris saw sales drop by anywhere from 40-60%. Visitors didn’t have to wait for seats at world-famous restaurants and it was possible to see the Mona Lisa up close without being hustled along by other tourists — but it just didn’t feel the same.

It’s the restaurants and local shops, like the quaint La Belle Equipe, that provided shelter without hesitation in the midst of the attacks but now struggle to make ends meet. Located just a few blocks away from the Bataclan concert hall, La Belle Equipe is big enough to seat about 30 customers. As The Guardian reported, owner Robin Greiner squeezed in 80 people that night when the terrorists opened fire. The metal shutters were pulled down in the front windows, everyone was given some wine on the house, and Greiner “refused to let anyone leave until 4am.”

La Belle Equipe is back on its feet now but just as other local shops, far fewer customers are stopping by. A handful of missing customers here, a couple fewer sales there — it all adds up, and it’s becoming more obvious now that the French tourism industry is struggling.

As noted, the lack of economic activity from tourists isn’t consistent across the country; rural, mountainous, and coastline vacation spots have hardly been affected by the attacks at all. Within Paris, however, virtually every industry is seeing lower revenue compared to a year ago.

“Paris tourism is seasonal. Historically, the winter months spanning from December through February have always been a slower period for the tourism industry,” said Alley Bradley, Managing Director, Paris Copia. “Hotels and vacation apartment rentals offer discounted rates and the availability for restaurant tables are more abundant and the attractions less crowded.

“Sure, these numbers were exacerbated by the events that transpired in November but just this month, we are seeing numbers on the rebound. The best indicator will come this summer, specifically June and July, which is the high season for tourism. But, in my opinion, Paris will rebound just like NYC after 2001. It just takes a little time.”

Experts say that it will take months before Paris begins rebounding economically. So one thing is pretty clear now: If you’ve ever thought about visiting Paris or if you want to show your support to the French people, now is the perfect time to plan a trip.

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