The tragic events of November 13th in Paris are unlikely to easily fade from the minds of Parisians. Already reeling from the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, a somber, fearful and weary mood prevailed in the city as Parisians returned to work last week.
Eerily quiet streets and empty bistros across the city begged the question: will France—and Paris, the world’s top tourist destination by far—rebound from this crisis quickly?
And looking at one of the city’s most important demographics, to what extent will Chinese tourism be impacted?
In the first week following the attacks, the economic harm was already being felt. Synhorcat, the Paris union representing hotels and restaurants, reported a 44 percent drop in restaurant business while hotels reported an even more dramatic decline of 57 percent. The key shopping centers in Paris, Galéries Lafayette and Printemps, also reported decreases in sales of between 30 and 50 percent.
Chinese cancellations for the next month have also been fast and fierce. Leading tour operators have reported significant cancellations and/or modifications to existing itineraries to avoid Paris. Leading players, such as Qunar and Ctrip, have instituted consumer-friendly cancellation and rebooking policies for fearful travelers.
For Parisian retailers, the timing can’t be worse, coming in advance of a particularly important time for sales to tourists from China: Chinese New Year.
We spoke with several Chinese tourists this week in Paris. All were concerned, and noted the extensive police and military presence that had been deployed. But most of the travelers expressed similar feelings to those of Parisians that “life must go on.” The question, of course, is whether tourists planning upcoming itineraries will feel the same way.
Over the past decade, developed economies have typically rebounded quickly in the wake of terrorist attacks. The fear, however, is that this time will be different for France. I am cautiously more optimistic. Paris still remains the #1 long-haul destination for outbound Chinese travel.
The impact is most likely to be strongest in the short- to medium-term. A weak Euro fueled strong Chinese tourism growth in 2015. That growth is most certainly going to suffer in Q4 and into Q1 of 2016. The wild card, of course, is how the French authorities handle this crisis and whether or not there are future incidents.
The French joie de vivre might be wounded, but it is still intact.