Dark times in the ‘City of Light’

SOLEMN MOMENT: People observe a minute of silence at the Trocadero in front the Eiffel Tower in Paris yesterday as the city came to a standstill to pay tribute to the victims of the series of deadly attacks on Friday night in various parts of the French capital.Picture: REUTERS
SOLEMN MOMENT: People observe a minute of silence at the Trocadero in front the Eiffel Tower in Paris yesterday as the city came to a standstill to pay tribute to the victims of the series of deadly attacks on Friday night in various parts of the French capital.Picture: REUTERS

After terror carnage in Paris, worries grow over tourism drop-off

IN THE wake of the terrorism carnage in Paris and more arrests yesterday, the tourism sector in one of the world’s most visited cities is bracing itself for an expected drop-off in visitors.

Shares in tourism companies fell sharply across Europe on expectations that people would cut back travel plans after Islamist militants launched coordinated attacks across Paris, killing at least 129 and injuring hundreds in locations of the type popular with tourists.

The Louvre and other attractions such as the Paris Opera reopened yesterday after shutting due to the killings, but Disneyland Paris remained closed and the Eiffel Tower was also closed.

France is normally the mostvisited country in the world, with Paris hosting 32.2 million visitors last year.

There are also deepening worries about the effects the coordinated attacks will have on peak-period Christmas shopping.

Meanwhile, police raided homes of suspected Islamist militants across France overnight arresting 23 people, and investigators identified a Belgian national living in Syria as the possible mastermind behind Friday’s attacks.

Much of France came to a standstill at midday for a minute’s silence.

Prosecutors have identified five of the seven dead assailants – four Frenchmen and a foreigner fingerprinted in Greece last month. His role in the carnage has fuelled speculation that Islamic State took advantage of a recent wave of refugees fleeing Syria to slip militants into Europe.

Police believe one attacker is on the run, and are working on the theory that at least four people helped organise the mayhem, the worst atrocity in France since World War 2.

The attacks appear to have been organised in Belgium.

Belgian police arrested at least one person after a four-hour siege yesterday at a house in Brussels, but failed to find a man believed to have played a key role in the assaults.

“We know that more attacks are being prepared, not just against France but also against other European countries,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.

“We are going to live with this terrorist threat for a long time.”

Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attacks in retaliation for French airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, warned in a video yesterday that any country hitting it would suffer the same fate, promising specifically to target Washington.

On tourism prospects, hospitality research group MKG president Georges Panayotis said: “It is going to be very difficult in the coming days. The sector is going to hurt.”

The damage to tourism would be greater than after the January attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket, since it was bigger and broader, Panayotis said. “The entire world is looking at France,” he said.

France has been on high alert since the January attack by Islamist gunmen who killed 18 people.

One big question is: will the drop in tourism last until the Christmas holidays or will business pick up in the next 15 days?

International hotel group Marriott is waiving cancellation fees for bookings at its 15 properties in Paris until November 28 and has increased security at a number of these.

Along the banks of the river Seine, vendors were nervous at the traditional stalls that sell postcards and souvenirs from the “City of Light”.

“I fear for the season to come, from now on it will go downhill,” stallholder Florence Muller said.

“Contacts at travel agencies tell us American tourists are cancelling their trips.”

On the share market, Air France, Aeroports de Paris, Eurotunnel and hotel group Accor were down about 5% or more over concern that tourism would see a downturn. But Air France said it had seen no immediate impact on plane occupancy over the weekend and that it was maintaining its flight schedules for the coming days.

Disneyland Paris will be closed today as part of a three-day national mourning period.

The theme park receives 14.8 million visits a year.

The Eiffel Tower – which receives more than seven million visitors a year – will stay closed until further notice, city officials said.

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