Is It Safe to Travel to France Right Now?
In the wake of a recent attack in Nice, here’s what you need to know.
After a Bastille Day celebration in Nice on July 14 turned deadly, response in the travel community was swift: Many major cruise lines canceled scheduled stops in Nice, and a state of emergency, declared in France following November’s attacks in Paris and due to expire on July 26, has been extended by three months. It is the third major attack in France in 18 months, and analysts have predicted a 30 percent decline in visitor numbers to France in August. But what does this all mean for travelers still going to—or considering travel to—France?
KNOW THE FACTS
Terrorism is called terrorism for a reason—it causes profound fear and subsequent anxiety. Yet despite recent attacks, terrorism remains a negligible risk, and one that is unpredictable: The Washington Postreports that while the Paris attacks left some 130 people dead, “roughly three times that number of French citizens died on that same day from cancer.” According to a 2011 report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the average American is as likely to be crushed to death by furniture or televisions as they are to be killed by a terrorist. “Everywhere in Europe is at the same risk of terror attack today as it was two weeks ago,” says travel expert Phil Sylvester of travel insurance website World Nomads. “We’re just more aware of it today, feeling the hurt and the fear.”
France is the world’s leading tourist destination, with 84.5 million tourists in 2015 flocking to the country for anything from the disappearing Louvre to a bevy of world-class wineries. The country has seen a slower start in 2016, but that’s not all because of the threat of terrorism: fuel shortages in May left tourists stranded; and widespread flooding in June caused the state to declare a natural disaster.
According to research from the World Travel & Tourism Council, it takes approximately 13 months for tourist numbers to return to previous levels. While this may seem long, tourism takes even longer to recover from other crises like diseases (21 months), an environmental disaster (24 months), and political unrest (27 months). Terrorism also has the lowest impact on recovery time and overall visitor numbers. And though short-term effects in Paris after the attacks were notable, the capital has by and largerecovered as a destination.
U.S. GOVERNMENT RECOMMENDATIONS
Post-Nice attacks, the U.S. Embassy in Paris released a security message for U.S. citizens about the future of travel to France: “Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks in Europe will continue as European members of ISIL (Da’esh) return from Syria and Iraq. Additionally, there is a continuing threat in Europe from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis.” The U.S. State Department also has a Europe-wide travel alert in place until August 31,
A STATE OF EMERGENCY—AND WHAT IT MEANS
In a state of emergency, the French government is at liberty to shut down certain attractions or points of interest without warning if they believe there is a threat to security. They can also impose curfews, ban certain gatherings, and close venues. Public transportation systems will see more security, as will airports, which means arriving at airports or train stations in anticipation of delays is advised. Since the Paris attacks some eight months ago, between 6,000 and 7,000 troops have been deployed to sites including schools, synagogues, department stores, and other buildings seen as potential terrorist targets. (10,000 were deployed during Euro 2016, which went off without incident.) Currently, the number of soldiers and armed police on the streets is “unprecedented.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
As with all travel, be aware of your surroundings, especially in public transportation systems, high-profile sporting events and concerts, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations that draw a large number of people. A smartphone app, released in June by the French government, notifies users of possible security incidents across the country, including natural disasters and all terror attacks.