Next Thursday night is a terrorist attack in Paris—the latest in the world of the most popular cities for tourists—both Parisians and travelers are on edge as authorities continue to investigate the shooting.
The incident shut down of the crowded, tree-lined Champs-Élysées, one of the most important roads in Paris and a tourist magnet, just three days before the next French presidential election.
“No one wants to be afraid when they go to take the subway or out for dinner, but there is a nagging worry in the back of everyone,” Melanie Mathis, an American national living in Paris, told Fox News. “You think twice about going to certain places or in large crowds.”
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(French police patrol the Champs Elysees Avenue the day after a policeman was killed and two others injured in a shooting incident in Paris, France, April 21, 2017.)
Terror attacks are becoming more frequent in France, leaving many to wonder how safe the beautiful city really is. Long one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, France received 83 million foreign visitors last year, according to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, that number is down from 2015, when France, more than 85 million tourists.
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Just two months ago, the French statistical office INSEE reported that tourism had greatly recovered in 2016, after two consecutive quarters of decline linked to terrorist attacks. The news came at a time tourism is the largest industry in the region Ile-de-France region, including Paris, and since by the end of 2016, the region reported a devastating 750 million euro (about $802 million) in lost revenue.
“Paris is on the downside since November 2015, followed by the Beautiful truck attack in 2016, but we have seen slowly the travelers back to Paris, New York-based travel agency Ginny Caragol, Executive Director of Valerie Wilson Travel, told Fox News.
While Caragol noted that there was a decrease in French bookings after the Bataclan attacks, that trend was beginning to reverse. With these recent incidents, the agency has yet to receive requests to cancel future bookings, though, says Caragol,”this could change.”
Adds Mathis, “many people dream of a trip to or around France, and the thought that is eliminated or reduced by the terrorist threat is simply unacceptable.”
In particular, france and Paris, in general, has experienced a recent increase in terrorism, with incidents including the March 2017 Orly attack; the February 2017 Louvre attack; a July 2016 attack on a church in Normandy; the July 2016 Beautiful truck attacks; the January 2015 attacks (including the Bataclan theatre), and the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, 2015.
Meanwhile, just this week, two men were arrested in Marseille on suspicion of planning another imminent attack before the Presidential election.
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The US State Department has not issued a warning for Americans traveling to France, although the France page includes a warning for those who travel or live in France, saying: “When travelling or living in France, you should: Be aware of your local situation and take the proper steps to strengthen your personal safety.”
The website warns US citizens to avoid demonstrations, rallies and protests, and reminds travelers about France ‘ s national state of emergency after the deadly November 2015 attacks. In December, the French Parliament voted to extend the state of emergency until July 15 of this year, after the elections are over and a new President has taken office.
Travel risk management firm E Travel Warnings, however, it has France listed as “Country Risk Level: High,” indicating the fact that ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, and the scoring of this week’s earlier arrests in Marseille.
Travellers are also being advised by the US Embassy in France to download the Government of France smartphone application, SAIP, to receive warnings about “terrorism or other special events.”
“We are faced with an extremely high terrorist threat,” Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters Thursday.
Friday morning, the traffic on the subway line was back to normal, with the three stations have been closed yesterday after the incident, George V, the Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau and Franklin Roosevelt—re-open.
While the fear of terror incidents are a fact of life all over the world, many recent attacks have been small in size. Far from the 9/11 or 7/7 images of mass-scale terrorism, the new trend seems to be lone-wolves with everything they can get their hands on: such as cars, trucks, knives and machetes.
The trend is known as a “low-grade” fall—in contrast to the targeting of high-risk areas, such as at airports—with the last month in London of an attack on the Westminster Bridge and in front of the Parliament recent high-profile examples of this scary trend.
It is particularly insidious, because it means that basically anyone would be able to store at any time.
“There is a general malaise that has woven itself into the Parisian life,” says Mathis. “More than that, there is a sense of frustration that these people are somehow allowed to cause chaos and disrupt the normal carefree Parisian lifestyle.”
In a statement to Fox News, the French Consulate said, “Francois Hollande said that a shooting on the Champs Elysees on Thursday evening, was suspected to be of a terrorist nature.” He promised “absolute vigilance” in the next two days before the presidential election on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, the French Minister of Home affairs, Matthias Fekl, has promised the 50,000 policemen and soldiers will be on hand for both election rounds, hopefully calming fears for those who worry if the critical election approaches.
For many, however, the nerves remain.
“Yet another attack in Paris tonight. Three days before the election… terrible terrible things. I’m still afraid now, a Twitter user posted on Thursday.
Yet another attack in Paris tonight. Three days before the election… terrible terrible things. I am still afraid now.
— Hélène (@momentsdrift) April 20, 2017
Another potential traveller tweeted, “I’m rethinking going to paris, because of all these attacks.”
I am reconsidering going to paris, because of all these attacks
— chlo (@chloesarah02) April 20, 2017
Someone else chimed in, “some of my friends are on a school trip to Paris this week and there’s a shooting going on. A little bit worried.”
A number of my friends are on a school trip to Paris this week and there’s a shooting going on. A bit worried
— Myth Awsme (@Awxme) April 20, 2017
But while anxiety and fear in the aftermath of incidents is an understandable response, Craig Sabasch, of the North-South Trip, a Canadian based agency, has a different view.
“We send many travelers to Paris and France, but all in all, we really have not seen much of a discount for customers traveling to be there,” Sabasch explained.
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“I think after the Bataclan concert murders was a bit quiet, but then it picked up again. France and Paris are one of the most popular destinations in the world. I do not expect that a reduction—I think that the Canadians are not so easily scared by this kind of situations, if the Americans!”
Time will tell if tourists begin to leave and return to France. As for the locals, they will press on.
“They can’t win the French spirit”, confirms Mathis.
“The terrorist attacks actually created a sense of national identity and unity, and the country have come together to reject an obstacle for the French way of life. The French are quite challenging and do not let anyone ruin the party.”
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo echoed the sentiment on Twitter: “In the face of this ordeal, I know that the determination of the Parisians to defend their way of life and their values is total.”
Face à cette’épreuve, je sais que la détermination des Parisiens à défendre leur mode de vie et leurs valeurs est total. #ChampsElysees
— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) April 20, 2017