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Tourist workers fight back as trade shaken by terror attacks and strikes

With many areas in France dependent on tourism, industry professionals are concerned about the effect of recent terrorist attacks – figures are still emerging but signs show a disappointing downward trend. 

Tourism Minister Matthias Fekl reports that the number of overnight stays by tourists dropped 10% on average during the first six months of 2016 while Paris tourist office figures show that hotel occupancy dropped 9.8% points to 78.1% in July compared to 2015, after a 12.5% drop in June, adding to fears of a France-wide slump in tourist trade.

A similar drop is reported by Jeffrey Messud, CEO of gite booking site Xotelia, based in Lyon. He said: “After each attack there seemed to be a drastic increase in cancelled reservations.”

However, on the other hand, he has also noticed “more and more last minute reservations,” suggesting that people are perhaps biding their time before booking, but opting for a French holiday nonetheless.

For those running small B&B businesses or chambres d’hôtes it is a worrying time.

Gite owner Emma Wadey from Bergerac said: “We had a family of eight who were about to book and had reserved a slot but suddenly I had an email citing the events in Nice as the reasons for cancellation. This is despite the fact we are in a very rural area.”

Jacky Jones, 56, owner of L’Ancienne Distillerie, near Cognac in South-West France has also suffered a “tough year.”

However, she feels the drop in trade has been a result of several disparate factors: “People have been put off by various things – including the terrorist attacks, but also the general workers’ strikes, the exchange rate and the bad press France attracted over football riots.”

On a more hopeful note, early indications for August, gathered by holiday company suggested a potential recovery in the figures for last-minute bookings in the popular Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, despite a drop in numbers during July. 

Potential reasons cited in its report were ‘more aggressive pricing’ by hoteliers and the fact that August 15 (Assumption) fell on Monday this year, as opposed to Saturday in 2015, so is a proper bank holiday.

Anecdotally many Francophiles seem unperturbed.  Nicola Sheppard, 42, from Surrey, is determined to continue holidaying several times a year with her family.  “I won’t give in to terrorists,” she said. 

She said she welcomes the heightened security in many French cities. “To see armed police and the army is reassuring and is now the new normal.”

The Côte d’Azur’s regional tourism committee, which represents tourism professionals across the troubled Riviera, is taking ‘exceptional’ measures, assisted by an additional  €500,000 from the Alpes-
Maritimes council with a further matching sum expected from the region.

Plans for encouraging a more positive view of the area include a social network campaign with the hashtag #CotedAzurNow encouraging locals and professionals to share and spread a positive image. 

The campaign also includes a television advert, poster campaign and press conferences.

Restaurateur Ugo Ghion, 25, who opened his restaurant Table de Ugo in Paris in November 2014 has noticed a troubling trend since the terror attacks in November 2015. 

“Before the attacks, 60% of our customers were referred by concierges of nearby hotels,” he says.  “Since the attacks, this proportion has decreased to 25%.” 

However, he said, thankfully trade at the restaurant remains buoyant for the time being.

“Fortunately, we have the confidence of Parisians, who are faithful to the restaurant,” said Ugo, who now focuses his attention on attracting local trade through affordable pricing and a varied menu.

Many owners of chambre d’hôtes and gites have similarly decided to focus more on local trade, in the event the downward trend continue. Jane Appel, owner of Le Clos du Verger, in Bergerac agrees. 

“If by the end of the year we have no advance bookings for 2017, we’ll change our advertising strategy to target stay­cations,” she said.

Travel industry expert Kate Stinchcombe-Gillies said there were changes within the industry: “The travel industry is a dynamic one and industry statistics show that people are still travelling, they’re just shifting their destination.

“Those in the tourism industry may need to diversify their target audience, because a typically strong US visitor contingent is now wary, so they may need to focus more on a domestic audience in the short term.

“Or they may look to promote lesser-known destinations and their artisan local producers or little known histories that foreign visitors consume so heartily.

“Where one business chooses not to respond, another will happily take advantage .”

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