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High costs, safety worries hurt Paris Games bookings

REUTERS
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REUTERS

LONDON/NEW YORK >> Spiralling travel and accommodation costs, French political tumult and security concerns are discouraging many sports fans and visitors from attending the Paris Olympic Games this summer.

Cities that win a coveted chance to host the world’s biggest sporting event often do so on expectations that they will attract throngs of visitors to showcase themselves and boost their economy.

But Paris has a handful of factors going against it that have held down bookings.

Flight bookings to the French capital – an indicator of tourist activity – are expected to increase by 10% year-on-year from June 6 onwards, according to flight ticketing data firm ForwardKeys.

That is a stark contrast to the 115% increase in tourist arrivals for the 2016 Rio Games. Even the Tokyo Games, held during the COVID-19 pandemic, saw a 20% increase, ForwardKeys said.

Data from Paris-based consultancy MKG shows hotel reservations have dropped since last year for the weeks ahead of the Olympics, along with a 25% revenue decline for much of June.

The data alongside interviews with travel agents, sports fans and ticket sellers show high prices and security concerns are making even the most ardent Olympic fans reluctant to attend.

“Right now, it’s the lowest bookings we’ve seen in 25 years for almost any sports event,” Alan Bachand, a sports travel agent based in the United States, told Reuters.

The findings underscore the challenges major cities face hosting international sporting events – they are already crowded and expensive, scaring off more price-conscious consumers.

They also show that unrelenting travel demand, with travellers willing to splash cash on experiences rather than goods in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is slowing as they become more sensitive to increased prices.

London experienced something similar in 2012. It only saw a 3% increase in arrivals, as many tourists steered clear of a city that would normally be inundated with tourists over the summer.

Still, it will be a blow for the French capital – one study recently estimated the Games would generate up to $12 billion in economic benefits to the Paris region. Last year, the Australian state of Victoria withdrew from staging the Commonwealth Games because of ballooning costs.

NIGHT BUS

Emma Mathieson, 29, has tickets in August for the women’s bronze football match in Lyon and is hoping to get tickets to the gold match the following day in Paris.

But rather than staying overnight afterwards, she will catch a night bus back to London. Accommodation of over 300 euros ($323) for the night was above her budget.

“I would have loved to have seen more women’s matches or group stages if it was more affordable,” she said.

Average hotel prices between July 26 and Aug. 11 have surged by 70% to 342 euros a night from last year, according to the Paris tourist office.

Even wealthier visitors have been put off. Bachand said four-star hotels were charging up to 1,000 euros a night during the competition, with many clients shying away as a result.

Even so, homesharing site Airbnb says it has seen record Paris bookings. As of March, nights booked in the Paris region during the games were 400% higher than the same time a year ago.

BUSINESS FALLOUT

However, Air France-KLM said on Monday it expected weaker-than-expected summer sales as travellers avoid the Olympics.

Global Travel Moments, a luxury travel agency, said clients had also cited security worries in addition to pricing as a reason to postpone their trips.

France is on its highest level of security alert as the Games approach, with the country additionally undergoing snap legislative elections.

Islamist terrorism is the main security worry, the French capital’s chief of police Laurent Nunez said last month.

“People are giving it a wide berth given the current climate,” said Duncan Greenfield-Turk, Global Travel Moments’ chief travel designer, citing “challenges” like the election called by President Emmanuel Macron.

One client recently postponed a trip to Paris until next year while another chose to visit before the games, he said.

Luxury retailers are hoping to boost sales in other areas outside of Paris as tourists avoid the French capital.

BENEFITS

Some travel agencies hope there will be a last-minute rush for tickets and accommodation and potential discounts in the final weeks before the games begin.

Visitors may be arriving by train or car which will not show up in flight data, but could drive last-minute home rental bookings, said Jamie Lane, short-term rental analytics firm AirDNA chief economist.

Eurostar said train ticket sales volumes to Paris until July 1 for the Olympics and Paralympics travel period were up 7% year-on-year.

“It’s going to be okay. In France, as usual, they’re always not happy and always criticising,” said Samuel Riezzo, who runs a firm selling tickets for sports events.

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