Is It Safe To Travel To Europe For The Holidays?

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ceciliarodriguez/2015/11/20/should-you-come-to-europe-for-the-holidays-paris-terrorism-attacks/4/

As so many people around the world these days, members of my family are in a quandary about their plans to travel to Europe for the coming holidays. Some have already bought tickets, others were considering joining us in Luxembourg for Christmas and then jumping on the fast, two-hour train to Paris for the New Year. What now, they ask?

The social networks, of course, are abuzz about the wisdom, or lack of it, of traveling to Europe so soon after the murderous attacks in Paris and as governments impose increased security measures, wrestle by the day with new threats and conduct neighborhood shoot-outs during raids to catch suspects.

While the worries are particularly intense about the risks of going to Paris, they extend throughout the continent as heightened preventive security measures are implemented especially in the cities most visited by tourists.

The Belgian government warned on Saturday of a “serious and imminent” threat of a Paris-style attack in Brussels, and the city was placed on high alert, triggering the cancellation of football games and concerts while stores, museums and galleries all closed early. The government warned residents and tourists to avoid crowded areas, as well as shopping centers, airports and train stations.

“My family is faced with the sort of dilemma that is sure to be discussed in many Australian homes this week,” wonders a writer at the Sydney Morning Herald. “Christmas is five short weeks away and thousands of us will soon be making our way to the northern hemisphere for the long break. My parents are due to visit Paris, Israel and London, where my brother and sister-in-law recently moved. It’s the trip of a lifetime. But should they still go?”

Without sounding crass, practical realities should be considered: There are promotions everywhere to encourage air travel, hotel reservations and entertainment bookings. Reservations for restaurants and events are much easier, the usual pre-holiday crowds less dense, stores are discounting prices and the lines for popular tourist attractions are shorter.

Although no government has officially recommended its nationals cancel European travel plans, most are advising prudence and caution.

Without sounding crass, practical realities should be considered: There are promotions everywhere to encourage air travel, hotel reservations and entertainment bookings. Reservations for restaurants and events are much easier, the usual pre-holiday crowds less dense, stores are discounting prices and the lines for popular tourist attractions are shorter.

Although no government has officially recommended its nationals cancel European travel plans, most are advising prudence and caution.

Without sounding crass, practical realities should be considered: There are promotions everywhere to encourage air travel, hotel reservations and entertainment bookings. Reservations for restaurants and events are much easier, the usual pre-holiday crowds less dense, stores are discounting prices and the lines for popular tourist attractions are shorter.

Although no government has officially recommended its nationals cancel European travel plans, most are advising prudence and caution.

While the general mood is caution, fear would be the wrong response.

The “plea for international fraternité has become the mantra of worried executives in Paris’s hotel and tourism industry” according to the New York Times. In the rest of Europe and particularly in the countries bordering France, the mood is one of worry and solidarity with Paris’s efforts to rebound as quickly as possible, despite the constant reminder of the official state of emergency from heavily armed soldiers patrolling the metro, the train stations, the airports and in the streets, as well as at border entry points.

Parisians have been showcasing their defiance by deliberately moving on with their lives, returning to schools and offices, going to cafés and restaurants, while tourism-industry organizations appeal to constituencies to show solidarity by returning to the French life style.

But despite their hopes, hotels, restaurants, museums, conference and exhibition centers and retail stores are feeling the blow. The tourist industry is among the most affected. Early holiday-season sales at large department stores as well as smaller stores inside and outside Paris have suffered heavy losses of more than 50% this week, according to Francis Palombi president of the French Merchants Association CDF: “Life must resume and consumers must not yield to psychosis. They need to feel safe at their independent traders. France is going through a period of mourning, not fear; the activity will gradually resume, especially in preparation for the holiday season.”

The hotel industry has seen scores of visitors cutting short plans and returning home since the attacks, a wave of cancelations this week and very few new bookings. According to the most recent figures, the occupancy rate at hotels in Paris fell by 40% during the weekend following the attacks.

Everything Is Open Again In Paris

American and European leaders have raised concerns about wider economic consequences for the continent if fear continues to stop people from traveling or participating in holiday celebrations, shopping or other activities where crowds gather.

Although most tourist attractions in Paris have reopened and all modes of transportation are running normally, the city is still under the state of emergency declared by President François Hollande and extended by lawmakers until February, 2016.

Many analysts fear that the extended state of emergency may further discourage international travelers and that many conferences for businesses and organizations will shift to other tourist centres such as London, Amsterdam or Milan.

The implications for an economically-struggling France are severe. Paris lies atop the list of the world’s favorite travel destinations and the industry generates over €4 billion in annual revenues. France, with 83.7 million visitors last year, is the top travel destination in the world, followed by the United States with 74.8 million.

Tourist Boards around France and other European countries that welcome massive tourism during the holidays are nervously following statistics on cancelations not only in hotels and restaurants but also of business and government conferences, seminars and other gatherings that bring many participants to convention centers and banquet halls.

Already several important concerts, tours by well-known musicians, conferences and celebrations planned for this month in Paris have been canceled or postponed. A three-day conference of French mayors scheduled for this week that was expected to bring 30,000 people was postponed until May 31.

The long-planned and highly-anticipated United Nations Conference on Climate Change, COP21, scheduled for the outskirts of Paris for two weeks beginning November 30, drawing more than 100 heads of state including President Obama and another 40,000 visitors, has been scaled back to just the essentials, which has meant the cancelation of more than 200 related events. Various international, climate change demonstrations planned for the meeting’s headquarters and in other French cities have also been banned.

Lyon, France’s third-largest city already has canceled its enormously popular annual festival of lights that draws two to three million people in December.

Christmas Markets

If Christmas markets, which started opening last weekend in European cities of all sizes, are good places to measure the general mood of tourists, as some analysts believe, there are some signs of hope. Despite strong security measures, so far they reflect a hopeful holiday spirit and, according to early reports, have been receiving steady flows of visitors, if not in the usual numbers.

Most Christmas markets in Germany open on Monday, November 23rd. And the head of the Conference of Interior Ministers in Germany, Roger Lewentz, said there have been no indications of planned attacks on markets, football matches or carnival processions.

So, how do I answer our anxious friends and family members wondering if they should come?

I can’t take that responsibility for them. In the end, considering the information available and the recommendations of caution, I leave it to each of them to decide how comfortable they feel and their personal degree of risk aversion.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.