The Paris terror attacks have cast a pall over the French tourist industry, as prospective travelers think twice about visting a city hard hit by not one but two gruesome attacks in less than a year.
Though no hard numbers are yet available, scattered reports have told of canceled and delayed trips, as well as journeys cut short by those already in the country. Airlines were operating as usual, however, and there appeared to be no drastic shortage of arrivals at Paris airports.
Airlines warned passengers to expect delays in clearing security and passport control, a warning all travelers should heed. I chanced to be leaving Paris Monday morning and encountered much tighter than usual security at Charles de Gaulle Airport, spending close to three hours standing on various lines and being frisked by security personnel.
Earlier, I talked with passengers aboard the Viking Rinda, which was cruising the Seine River south of Paris when the attacks occurred Friday night. Besides sorrow over the loss of life, there was confusion about whether it was safe to remain in the country and fear that groups of American tourists might be particularly vulnerable to attack.
Tourists as targets?
Just a few days earlier, passengers from the Rinda had been riding around Paris in brightly painted Viking River Cruise buses, touring the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Champs-Élysées and other tourist attractions. Many were clustered in groups being led by tour guides holding Viking Cruise signs and umbrellas.
"We might as well have been walking around with a target on our backs," said one elderly passenger.
Others expressed their regret that so many of the monuments and relics they had seen on their visit were memorials to wars of one sort or another. "It's so sad that such a beautiful country has been the site of so many wars ... and now this," a retired Midwestern school teacher said.
The Viking cruise passengers were left with time on their hands late in the week, as visits to the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, and other Parisian sites were canceled because of the three-day mourning period ordered by French authorities.
Too late to cancel?
Most airlines were allowing passengers to change flight plans over the weekend, but such leeway is not likely to last long. Many consumers are likely to find themselves facing stiff penalties if they try to cancel flights and other travel plans.
Squaremouth, a travel insurance website, says travelers may be covered by their travel insurance if they want to cancel upcoming trips to Paris, but not everyone will meet insurers' requirements.
"The Paris attacks have been named an act of terrorism by the State Department, so insured travelers could be covered by travel insurance policies with this definition," said Squaremouth CEO Chris Harvey. "However, their trip dates and itinerary may need to meet other requirements to be eligible for coverage."
Harvey said that travelers with fast-approaching trips -- those within the next week or two -- to Paris may be covered by their travel insurance but those with travel plans in the next few months, or even to other regions of France, may not be.
Many policies require the traveler's departure date to be within a specified time period of terror attacks, often 7-30 days. Under some travel insurance policies, the terrorist attack must have occurred in a city, or within 50-100 miles of a city, on their itinerary. Travelers would need to be able to show hotel, transport, or tour bookings in or near Paris.
Harvey said that those who have not yet purchased travel insurance coverage, or who do not meet the other criteria to be eligible for terrorism coverage, would need to purchase the Cancel For Any Reason upgrade to be able to cancel their travel plans out of fear of terrorism.
Cancel For Any Reason is only available as an upgrade within 14-30 days of their initial deposit date, requires the traveler to insure their entire trip cost, will only reimburse up to 75% of the traveler's trip costs, and requires the traveler cancel their trip at least 48 hours before their departure date, he said.
Squaremouth has established the Paris Terrorist Attacks and Travel Insurance Information Center to provide more information to travelers. This online resource is updated with official provider position statements, answers to frequently asked questions, and current government travel alerts and notices related to the terrorist attacks in Paris.
But regardless of the relief travel insurance may provide, the travel industry is bracing for a shock. A New York travel agent called it "a terrible situation" and said it would hurt the airlines, hotels, and restaurants that had just been starting to recover from the terror attacks in January that killed 17 journalists, police, and shoppers at a kosher grocery.
That incident was blamed for a 3.3% drop in Paris hotel stays during the first three months of the year. The latest attacks, besides being more deadly, occurred in the trendy east side of Paris, home to the city's most popular tourist and cultural destinations and many of its finer hotels and restaurants.
Revenue aside, the French hope tourists will not abandon them now. A tour guide in the tiny town of Les Andelys brushed away tears Saturday, the day after the attacks, expressing her gratitude for the words of comfort offered by her American tour group.
"You are all so kind. I am so happy we are not alone," she said.
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