#ParisAttacks: ‘Resilient SA travellers unlikely to change travel plans’

2015-11-16 21:00 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - Security has been heightened in and around the French capital, following the harrowing Paris terrorist attacks over the weekend, which could indirectly make France one of the safest places to travel to right now, say Thompsons Tours spokesperson John Ridler.

On Friday night 13 November, terrorists with guns and suicide vests carried out coordinated attacks across Paris that left at least 129 people dead and more than 350 injured. The targets, including a cafe and a concert hall, were the types of places that attracted a young crowd and in-the-know travelers. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"While it is too early to gauge the mood of travellers, they certainly must be rattled by the weekend attacks. Any further attacks of this magnitude will certainly have an impact on Europe as a destination – even if just temporarily," Ridler said.

"But we don't expect many South Africans to cancel their plans. The situation is really that South Africans are quite resilient,” said Ridler  

According to Ridler the effects were “small" from local travelllers  after terror attacks such as the Charlie Hebdo incident at the beginning of 2015 which killed 12 people.

READ: 5 Hard lessons on how terrorism affects global tourism

"We have had only one cancellation – the client is diverting to Rome."

Air travel continues

AP News reports airlines are operating a normal schedule of flights into and out of Paris over the weekend with some travellers with future plans to visit the French capital reconsidering their options - with some quickly cancelling their tickets - a worrisome sign for the travel and tourism industries.

Joe Nardozzi, a 31-year-old New York investment banker, and his wife won't be taking the wedding-anniversary trip they planned later this month.

"I have no interest in losing my life over a trip to Paris," he said.

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Travel agents said some clients called to cancel trips, and one advocacy group for business travelers predicted that corporations would let frightened employees do the same.

Are the attacks a one-time event?

Decisions by companies and leisure travelers could hinge on whether the Paris attacks are seen as a one-time event or the vanguard of a stepped-up campaign by Islamic radicals. Islamic State, the group fighting in Syria and Iraq, also claimed last month that it bombed a Russian passenger jet over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, although investigators have not determined the cause of the crash that killed 224 people.

Tourism to the French capital already took a big hit earlier this year from the attacks in January that killed 17 journalists, police and shoppers at a kosher grocery. The Paris tourist office said the number of hotel stays fell 3.3 percent in the first three months of the year, a drop it blamed specifically on the January attacks.

The situation had just begun to improve, with summer visits by US travellers, who are Paris' biggest group of foreign visitors rising significantly.

The new attacks targeted neighborhoods in Paris' trendy east side, which Paris tourist officials had specifically mentioned in a recent update on tourism in the capital.

Kevin Mitchell, who runs an advocacy group called the Business Travel Coalition, expects some worried corporate travellers to cancel trips to Europe.

"These companies have to continue to do business," he said, "but for some period of time they'll give employees a lot of leeway about traveling to Europe and Paris in particular."

It's not just Western visitors who might avoid Paris after the attacks. Egyptian college graduate Aya Sayed has always dreamed of strolling the streets of the City of Light.

'Terrorism coverage'

"I would be too afraid to go because I don't want to be mistreated because of my headscarf or ethnicity," she said. "Who knows what they might do to us now?"

Consumers with travel insurance that includes terrorism coverage can probably recover the cost of a trip to Paris, according to Squaremouth, a policy-comparison website. But even policies that cover terrorism may only apply to trips scheduled in the next week or month and might not apply to travel in other parts of France or Europe more broadly, a company spokeswoman said.

Wendy Perrin, who writes about consumer topics for TripAdvisor, encouraged people to keep travelling in a post on her Facebook page.

"The answer is not to stop traveling ... The answer is to keep traveling, to make friends around the world, to be a thoughtful ambassador for your country," she wrote.

Even travellers who go to Paris are likely to be in a less celebratory mood. On Saturday, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and other must-see attractions were closed until further notice, and the mood in the city was changed.

Toronto residents Mark Hutchison and Ashleigh Marshall planned a big night out during a Paris stopover on their trip back home from Tanzania — "go to a restaurant, go to a bar, have a glass of wine," Hutchison said. Instead, they decided to hunker down in their hotel with a bottle of wine once the sun went down Saturday evening.

"It's a lot to take in," he said of the deadly attacks. "You can't make sense of it."

On flights to the U.S. from Paris, the mood was understandably subdued.

Shannon Sharpe, 47, who works for an oil and gas company, caught a connecting flight in Paris on his way to Houston from Africa.

"It was a bit more quiet," he said of the Air France flight. "I don't want to say it was a bit of mourning, but when a tragedy like that happens, people are still in a state of shock," he said.