Leadership and Democracy LabWestern Social Science

Disaster Tourism in France: Insignificant but representative

Primary Contributor: James Balasch

Team Leader: Blaine Yonemitsu


In the last quarter of 2016 the Economist featured an article on “Disaster Tourism,” a new form of tourism that is beginning to become known in a number of European countries, France included. As of late, disaster tourism has allegedly become popular due to European terrorism, debates around multiculturalism and other alleged failures of globalization, causing tourists to travel to places such as France. During an interview with the Leadership and Democracy Lab French Diplomat Marc Trouyet referred to this form of tourism as insignificant due to there being no empirical evidence available on this type of tourism. Although insignificant in number, the reported reaction of these miniscule number of tourists after a disaster tour in places such as neighboring Belgium is positive when they realise the areas they are touring are not disaster areas at all.

This micro insight into disaster tourism is representative of the current situation the French tourist industry faces. In the aftermath of a terrorist attack in France there is usually a decrease in tourist for the proceeding 16-17 days before the industry levels return to normal. Although the complete statistics for French tourism in 2016 have yet to be released, the slight decline in tourism compared in previous years has been felt across France. Paris in particular has felt this decline.  In the first half of 2016 it experienced a 6.4% drop in visitors, causing a financial loss of 750M Euros. Although terrorism has posed a challenge to the French tourism industry, there are other issues such as the Burkini debate, some critics such as Valerie Pecresse, president of the Ile-de-France region have cited the supposed deteriorating quality of French tourism services as a challenge for the French tourism industry.

These challenges to the French tourism industry are a major concern to the French government, especially since direct and indirect revenues from tourism made up 9.1% of French GDP in 2015. Another reason these challenges are taken seriously by the French government is due to the importance placed on improving French international trade via tourism since 2012. A major part of this consists of meeting the goal of 100 million tourists in France annually from 2020 onwards, a goal that is actively pursued by attracting tourists from emerging markets such as Asia. With the French Presidential elections to take place this year, it is unlikely that a change in administration will leave tourism by the wayside because of tourism making up such a significant percentage of French GDP.

It is evident that over 2016 the French tourism industry experienced decreased profitability due to a number challenges, with terrorism serving as the poster-child for these losses. Because of this, appropriate risk mitigation techniques by stakeholders in the French tourism industry would likely be built around security measures to prevent future violence and reassurance strategies to encourage future growth. One additional financial risk that is posed from additional security measures is international perception of the security measures implemented by French stake holders, if these begin to have a poor international perception the French tourism industry will be negatively impacted. The fact is that stakeholders in the French tourism industry are implementing these strategies and much more.

In terms of security the French government has recently implemented its Vigipirate security measures that will continue well into 2017. Vigipirate consist of 300 security measures intended to prevent future security threats and includes measures such as a heightened military presence partially meant to reassure tourists, improving cyber security as well as a host of others. Stakeholders in the French tourism industry have also continued to utilize tourist organizations such as atout to reassure possible tourist from abroad that France is still “open for business”. On top of these strategies an effort has also been made to improve French tourism venues themselves. An example of this is the Tourism Investment Fund, funding that is available to businesses in the French tourism industry. A risk mitigation strategy to avoid a negative perception of these previous measures should be to increase transparency through the communication of the reasoning for their implementation. This can be done through the tourism advertisement campaigns that are already taking place, and publically accessible documentation which is already occurring for some measures.

Even though France has experienced challenges to its tourism industry over 2016, just like disaster tourism, when these challenges to the tourism industry and counter-measures made by stakeholders are actually examined in detail, the outlook for 2017 is relatively positive. It is evident that French stakeholders are serious about maintaining the growth and prosperity of their tourism industry, the only question left is: are investors willing to withstand minor short-term losses for long-term rewards?