(Reuters) - Fresh violence on the streets of Paris and bomb threats against Air France flights have rattled the global tourism industry, with travelers from wealthy Asian nations thinking twice about trips to Europe.
Tour operators canceled package trips and some predicted a further slowdown in bookings as jittery travelers hold off on immediate plans or look to go elsewhere.
Some big-spending Chinese tourists are shunning Paris for now and opting instead to visit Germany and other European cities in the wake of the second major attack this year on the French capital. Some Chinese visiting Paris last weekend swiftly diverted to Switzerland, said Jane Chen at travel firm Ctrip in Shanghai.
More than 2 million Chinese were expected to visit France, the world’s leading tourist destination, this year, up from 1.7 million last year, according to Chinese state media citing the country’s ambassador to France. For Japanese, France is the 12th most popular travel destination.
The likely blip in foreign arrivals will further pressure the French economy, particularly if tourist unease lasts through the Christmas season. Tourism generates more than 7 percent of annual GDP, with Paris alone drawing in 32.2 million visitors last year.
“I still want to go to Paris, but after this incident I won’t go within a year,’ said Vickie Zheng, a 27-year-old realtor in Shanghai.
“My impression of Paris is that it’s a romantic city, but after this I think the security situation has been neglected and there are risks. If I was traveling this would influence me,” added Li Maoqing, 29, a Shanghai salesman.
An employee at CITIC Tourism in Beijing said business related to France was expected to remain “sluggish”. “Unlike earthquakes or natural disasters, a terrorist attack will leave people with fear for ... at least three months.”
Among Asian airlines operating regular flights to the French capital, a spokesman for South Korea’s Asiana Airlines said it stepped up security for Paris flights.
“Our passengers are really concerned about the attacks in Paris,” added K.W. Nieh, a senior vice president at Taiwan’s Eva Airways, noting a rush of cancellations following Friday’s attacks in Paris that killed 129 people.
“On Sunday alone, we had 50 cancellations out of 300 bookings. Paris has always been a fully-loaded route for us, but loading has dropped to 70-80 percent since the attacks.”
Several airlines, such as Air China and Singapore Airlines, waived cancellation fees for those booked on flights to Paris in the coming days or weeks.
Dennis Bunnik, Chairman of Council of Australian Tour Operators Inc, said clients are “definitely nervous,” though this is currently low season for traveling to Europe.
“People have realized that terrorism can happen anywhere, so if your time’s up, then unfortunately you’d get caught in it,” he said.
“What this sort of incident would do is delay people booking, but won’t stop them from traveling.”
Reporting by Shanghai and Beijing Newsrooms, Swati Pandey in SYDNEY, Faith Hung in TAIPEI, Donny Kwok in HONG KONG, Ritsuko Ando in TOKYO, Aradhana Aravindan in SINGAPORE and Joyce Lee in SEOUL; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Ian Geoghegan