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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Paris Tries to Reassure Tourists- NY Times


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Police officers on bicycle patrol on Rue des Rosiers, in the heart of the Paris Jewish quarter, after the terror attacks. January is typically a slow month for Paris, but reservations at four-  and five-star luxury hotels slumped by up to 9 percent in the days following the attacks. CreditRemy De La Mauviniere/Associated Press 
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A throng of visitors huddled outside L’As du Fallafel on the Rue des Rosiers, braving the cold for a taste of the legendary restaurant’s takeout shawarma and chickpea fritters. Around them, people jammed onto the narrow cobbled street, dressed in bright scarves, arms loaded with shopping bags and cameras.
It was a typical Sunday in the old Jewish quarter of the chic Marais district of Paris, except for one detail: groups of French soldiers in camouflage and bulletproof vests, toting submachine guns with their fingers near the trigger.
Less than a month after 17 people were killed at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket in one of the worst terror attacks on France, the government has been maintaining high security around Paris to reassure travelers that the City of Light is safe.
Jewish sites, mosques, hotels, department stores, music halls, museums and historic monuments are all under heightened protection, and a security plan called Vigi­pirate is in place at many sites, requiring visitors to undergo additional checks and bag inspections to enter. Surveillance has also been increased in the Paris Metro and in other high-traffic areas.
“For visitors, Paris is safe, just as it was before,” said François Navarro, the managing director of the Paris Region tourist board. “We haven’t seen any sign of panic or cancellations from visitors, although for the moment we have to wait and be cautious.”
Mr. Navarro said the tourism board had received thousands of messages of support and solidarity. Representatives of his office planned to reassure tourism professionals and would-be visitors from other countries that Paris was open for business.
Not everyone has been put at ease. January is typically a slow month for Paris, which hosted 47 million visitors last year. But reservations at four- and five-star luxury hotels slumped by up to 9 percent in the days following the attacks, according to MKG Hospitality, a travel study firm.
“Paris tourism professionals have been wary for a long time about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the capital,” Georges Panayotis, the president of MKG Group, said in a statement. “Given the emotional reaction, it’s natural that some visitors would have deferred or canceled their stay.”
With an additional 10,000 soldiers and 5,000 more police officers being fanned out across France, though, Mr. Panayotis said he expected any downturn to be temporary.
Indeed, many travelers who had already made plans for Paris for the most part appeared to stick with them.
“I wasn’t going to be afraid,” said Joanne Negron, 51, who works for a power company in New York and had just arrived in Paris with her daughter, Siobahn Goodwin, 27, an accountant at Booking­.com. “If we lived in fear, we wouldn’t do anything.”
Stopping under the stony facade of Notre Dame, where more armed guards patrolled the sidewalks, they noted that security was “all over the place,” including at the Marriott hotel near the Opéra where they were staying.
Ben Takai, 32, an epidemiologist from Washington, D.C., said he had no qualms about visiting amid heightened security. “Seeing soldiers with guns is not alarming — we saw that in the States after 9/11,” he said, as guards patrolled outside Chez Marianne, a Jewish restaurant on the Rue des Rosiers.
“Things happen all over the world,” Mr. Takai said, citing attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria. “But you can’t allow that kind of fear to affect your decisions. The world doesn’t stop turning.”
Diego Moreria, 33, a literature teacher from Brazil, had stopped at the Shoah Memorial near the Seine River, where five armed guards stood near the door. Part of his family is Jewish. “Violence is everywhere,” he said. “They’re shocked in France because 17 people were killed. But in Brazil, you must leave the house every day with personal plans to stay safe.”
The attacks had also not changed the minds of Muslim tourists from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, despite concerns within France’s Muslim community of possible reprisals, said Bilal Domah, the director of CM Media, a London-based events management company. Paris still topped the list of desired destinations for halal tourism, which is worth billions of euros annually to the European economy, he said. “France has open-minded people who understand that not all Muslims are the same,” he said.
Travelers have also been visiting the site of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, where makeshift shrines have been erected. A 10-minute walk from the Bastille, near the rue Nicolas Appert, the site of the newspaper’s former offices, Hisashi Kikushina, 28, from Hiroshima, Japan, said he wanted to pay homage to the victims. “I feel moved by what happened,” he said. “I came because it’s ­also a way to stand up for free speech.”
More travelers hovered over flowers strewn outside the Hyper Cacher market, the site of the second attack, this one in a Jewish community near the St.-Mandé Métro stop in eastern Paris.
Mr. Navarro of the tourism board encouraged visitors to take in not just the city’s classical monuments, but to venture to sites in ethnically mixed neighborhoods near the suburbs, which he said represented “two faces of the same coin, which is Paris.”
One highlight is the new Paris Philharmonic, a soaring steel music hall that was recently inaugurated at La Villette, a diverse quarter in the 19th Arrondissement.
“We are here to welcome the world,” Mr. Navarro said, “whatever their religion or nationality.”