Travel to Paris Slumps After Terror Attacks, but Airfares Stay Aloft

Travel industry sources say few Israelis have canceled but few are making new reservations. If they’re flying to Europe, it’s to the east.

An employee prepares breakfast in front of the Eiffel tower at a luxury hotel in Paris, France. July 30, 2015.
Reuters

The long lines visitors suffer at Paris’ top tourist attractions have gotten noticeably shorter since the November 13 terror attacks. Ticket sales at the Louvre are reportedly down 30% from their level before the violence that killed 130 people, and at the Pompidou Center business is even worse.

Daily occupancy at hotels in Paris fell 24 percentage points on average in the week after the attacks claimed by the Islamic State, according to the Office du Tourisme et des Congres de Paris. Recent days haven’t been as bad, but the number was still down 16 points on November 22 and 23, the office said.

On the other hand, airline booking cancellations were back to normal this week, the office said.

Even if Israeli tourists are used to security crises at home, they’ve been staying away from Paris. Routes are operating normally and Israeli travel agents report few cancellations, but the number of new reservations has declined.

Belgian capital Brussels has just ended a four-day lockdown as security forces hunted down terror suspects.

“Paris was hit hard and anyone who says otherwise is simply lying. We’ve seen demand fall off – we’re experience a drop of 30% in reservations,” said Ronen Carasso, vice president of marketing at Israeli travel agency Issta.

“If there had been charter flights on this route, not scheduled flights, they would have been canceled because it’s not economical for them to be flying now.”

He said Tel Aviv-Paris flights were filled mainly by Israelis visiting family in France, which he described as a hard-core group that wouldn’t be affected by security concerns. Ordinary travel, however, is in trouble.

“Unfortunately, Paris as a travel destination has completely disappeared from the map,” added Erez Bousso, CEO of Smartair, an online discount travel service.

“In normal times it’s a top destination for people who want to celebrate the New Year, but right now reservations are down 90%. We’re seeing people move to destinations in Eastern Europe like Prague, Budapest and Bucharest and staying away from Western Europe.”

Ziv Rosen, CEO of the online travel service Gulliver, said it’s not just Paris. Reservations for Paris are down by half, but for London they’re down 20% and Berlin by 8%. Smartair has similarly seen declining reservations for Amsterdam and Barcelona.

On the other hand, some travel agents insist that only Paris is the problem. “Everyone is ordering flights to Europe to celebrate the New Year, just not Paris, even more than in recent years,” said Carasso.

But on the price-comparison site TraveList there’s no discernible trend of rising or falling airfares for European cities that might signal demand levels.

In any case, even if Paris has fallen off Israelis’ travel plans, there’s no sign the slumping demand has led to reduced airfares. Anyone who wants to join the countdown to midnight on the Champs Elysees December 31 will have to pay more than $530 for a ticket, the same price as a year ago.

That’s the El Al fare for travelers flying December 30 and staying till January 3 or 4. On Air France it’s $600. “The wave of terror in Paris hasn’t led to lower fares for travelers,” said Rosen.

A month ago airfares started at $520, and prices for after New Year’s aren’t bargain basements either, even though demand falls precipitously even in normal years. The lowest fare for a January 4-11 trip was $425 on a low-cost carrier.

Airfares to other European cities also showed no sign of slumping interest. The lowest fare to London was $520 on the low-cost carrier EasyJet. A flight to Berlin on El Al’s low-cost airline Up was $530, the cheapest flight to the German capital available. Barcelona on El Al was $610.

Among Western European cities, only Rome was under $500 – one was for $310.

On the other hand, Eastern European destinations are much cheaper, even though they’re Israelis’ preferred destinations right now, travel sources say. Flights to Prague start at $500, fall to as little as $485 for Warsaw and $385 for Budapest.