Almost a year after the September 11 terrorist attacks, many European countries are still experiencing at dramatic drop in American visitors. Nowhere are the declining numbers of U.S. visitors more apparent than in Paris, considered the world's top tourist destination. Post-September 11 travel jitters are just part of the problem.
For the past seven years, Isabelle de Cottignies has managed a chocolate shop on the elegant Rue de Rivoli in Paris, where American tourists have represented a large chunk of her clientele. But not this summer.
Mrs. de Cottignies says the number of Americans visiting her store has plummeted over the past year. So have the numbers of Japanese. Mrs. de Cottignies says she is not alone. A few shops on the Rue de Rivoli have closed in recent months, she says, for lack of business. Mrs. de Cottignies believes she knows the reason. Many Americans fear traveling overseas, since last year's attacks terrorist in New York and Washington.
Mrs. de Cottignies is not the only Parisian noting the loss of American visitors. The Paris Tourism Office reports the number of U.S. tourists in Paris dropped 17 percent over the first four months of this year, compared to the previous year. Overall, 30 percent fewer Americans visited France during that same period. Those who did, tourist operators say, often spent less than usual.
But Paul Roll, director of the Paris Tourism Office, says the city is already recovering from its losses. "Tourism dropped, obviously after the 11th of September," he said. "Started recovering - as of January, we were already limiting the losses we'd had until then. What seems to be the trend up till this day is we'll probably be three to four points behind last year which was, obviously, until the 11th of September - a very good year."
Mr. Roll says fears of traveling to Europe, where a number of terrorist suspects have been arrested since September 11, is only part of the problem. He believes the plummeting stock market and weaker dollar have also caused Americans to stay home. At the same time, he says, more French tourists, along with visitors from Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, have partly made up for the loss.
More Britons, like Jane Grogan, have also been flocking to Paris this summer. Mrs. Grogan, a nurse from Yorkshire, England, was at Notre Dame one recent afternoon, with her sister and two sons. Fears of terrorist attacks, she says, have not affected her travel plans. "Because it's fate," she said. "If its going to happen, it's going to happen. And it can happen to you crossing the road if it's your turn, that will happen."
Across Europe, tourism is similarly uneven. Summer floods in parts of Germany and Eastern Europe have ravaged some tourist sites. Other foreigners shied from visiting Britain this spring, following an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in livestock. Some U.S. Jewish groups have also urged Americans not to visit France, because of a rise of attacks against Jewish institutions. And airline companies across the Continent have cut back flights since September 11.
But some seaside resorts in Italy and France are reporting little change in summer business and even a slight improvement.
Just a few blocks from Mrs. de Cottignie's chocolate shop, for example, store owner Sion Boccara says it's business as usual.
Mr. Boccara says fewer American customers have visited his shop, which sells elaborately embroidered shawls and scarves. But his French clientele remains about the same, Mr. Boccara says and more Mexican, Japanese and Russian tourists have wandered in.
And even though their numbers have dropped this year, Americans like 22-year-old Richard Brundage, remain the most numerous of the foreign tourists in Paris. "I'll live my life like I did before 9-11," he said. "I'll take certain precautions. We're aware of it. But I'm not going to change anything I do."
Mr. Brundage and a college friend have spent the summer traveling through Europe. It's their first visit to the Continent and both say they are unafraid of a possible terrorist attack here. In fact, their worst problem so far they say, has been dealing with pickpockets in Paris.