French government paints rosy picture of tourism despite unrest over police killing of teenager

PARIS (AP) — The Eiffel Tower, the castles of the Loire Valley — and burning cars. Tourists in France have faced a new reality during an eruption of national anger following the police killing of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk.

As hoteliers cite a drop in bookings in some areas, the French government on Thursday insisted the overall picture for the tourism industry remains rosy and promised a “great season” for visitors despite simmering discontent.

Officials from the Ministry of Economy and Finance held a meeting with representatives of the tourism industry on Thursday to discuss the consequences that the national unrest following Nahel’s death has had on tourism activity and the international image of France.

The fatal shooting sparked anger across France and stoked already existing tensions over racial and class discrimination in policing, which often targets neighborhoods with low-income families from former French colonies. The violence has subsided this week, but the roots of tension remain.

The Union of Hotel Trades and Industries (UMIH) said hotel cancellations in Marseille had reached up to 30% following the protests, and anticipated that attendance at Parisian bars and restaurants could fall A half.

Local and national reports cited fear-driven cancellations of international flights and hotels, added to property damage suffered by businesses during several days of violence.

But the minister responsible for trade and tourism, Olivia Grégoire, refuted those figures during Thursday’s meeting, which included representatives of the UMIH. She called the figures “pessimistic and misguided”, but acknowledged that the government is currently unable to provide official data on the damage caused.

The ministry pledged to help tourist establishments affected by the violence, which included days of clashes between youths and police, the burning of cars and public buildings and the looting of shops. Incidents affected around 500 towns and villages in France, including Paris.

Some of the measures include deferring or writing off these companies’ debt and offering short-time working benefits to employees who cannot work due to the unrest.

“Let’s not add anxiety to anxiety and problems to problems,” Grégoire said. “We have everything to make this season a great season.”

She specifies that there is “no wave of cancellation or postponement of flights from or to Paris.

“The fact is that restaurants, hotels and shops are open today in Paris, Marseille and Lyon, and that is the most important thing.”

Tourists who thronged the French capital this week took extra precautions but appeared largely unfazed.

“Basically we look around and make sure that where we are seems safe (and) if there is a police presence,” said Valisha Ismail, a 40-year-old visitor from South Africa. South. “If there’s a big crowd, then we try to get away from it.”

Others said they felt safe due to the heavy police presence on the streets of the French capital. Heavily armed officers patrolled outside Dior and Cartier boutiques on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées this week as part of an exceptional 45,000-strong nationwide police deployment that has led to more than 3,000 arrests – and new concerns about police excesses.

Johan and Jenna Haukbrauer, a couple who came from Germany for the first time, said they were aware of what was happening but nevertheless were not discouraged.

“We checked the news, but we were fine because there are a lot of police here and security forces, so for us it’s fine,” Johan said.

Gilda Stanbery, visiting her daughter outside Paris, said they were unable to come downtown during the days of the most intense riots. But a few days later, they could, and she said, “We’re here now.


Cara Anna contributed to this report.

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