NICE, France (Reuters) - The pebbly beaches of Nice can all but disappear beneath a carpet of bronzing bodies on a normal July weekend.
By the early afternoon on Saturday, 36 hours after a gunman drove a truck into a waterfront crowd killing 84 people, numbers were way down.
“Normally we are packed. We have far fewer clients and that’s what the terrorists want,” said one worker, William, trying to rent out loungers for 19 euros a day at the southeastern city’s Galion private beach.
No one was expecting business as usual so soon after the horrific Bastille Day attack. But business has been weak all summer. “It’s the worst season I’ve seen for a long time, I’d say 10 years,” he added.
Security fears have been hurting France’s vital tourism industry, typically responsible for about 7 percent of GDP, since a series of Islamist militant attacks began in January 2015, most of them in the capital.
Fewer than two dozen of Galion’s 250 deck-chairs were occupied on Saturday afternoon. There was a similar scene about 50 meters along the sea front at the Plage Ruhl.
This time last year, manager Marie-Jose Malacarne was taking 15,000 euros a day. This Saturday she doubts she will take more than 3,000.
“Its true and I’m afraid. In summer with this lovely weather, normally we are full. I think we’ll see a bit of a drop. Seventy percent of our clients are foreigners,” she said.
Nice says only Paris attracts more visitors in France. Its beaches, restaurants and Riviera ambience account for 40 percent of the Cote d’Azur region’s tourism and, in a normal year, attract 5 million people.
Tourism typically provides a living for about 40 percent of its 343,000 inhabitants.
But this is not a typical year. Authorities closed the market in the city center Cour Saleya district for security reasons after the truck attack.
“There’s no ambience, there’s nobody, we’re not happy, said waiter Ouadi at La Civette cafe. “The clients are gone ... Hopefully next week activity will pick up again.”
Back at the Galion beach, British visitor Mike Bramah said he was determined to come out almost as an act of defiance.
“We weren’t not going to come,” he said, as a coastguard vessel patrolled the cobalt blue waters of the Baie des Anges in front of him.
“First you can’t let these things put you off and second there’s probably more security here than anywhere else right now.”
Additional reporting by Andrew Callus in Paris; Editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Andrew Heavens