Tour operators joined the rest of the world in sorrow over the incalculable loss incurred from the Notre Dame fire, but as effectively the first responders of the travel industry, they could not allow themselves time to mourn. As always, they had to tend to circumstances on the ground, the welfare of their guest travelers, and the recalculation of touring logistics in Paris in the wake of the disaster.
Travel Market Report surveyed some of the top providers of European tours to ask their assessment of the possible effects of the fire on tourism going forward.
“USTOA joins the global chorus of disbelief and sadness about the devastating fire at Notre Dame,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of the U.S. Tour Operators Association. “We are also relieved that the structure has been deemed sound with a firm commitment, and quite a growing war chest, to rebuild. Our tour operator members are among the most nimble master planners when it comes to situations like this, as they have to be. We’re confident that their guests will see the value in visiting Paris, maybe even more so to show their support to the people of France in light of this tragedy.”
First things first, tour operators had to locate their guests in Paris and make sure of their well being.
“Upon hearing the news of the blaze yesterday evening, our first concern was for our guests in Paris,” said Jean Fawcett, media relations manager for Abercrombie & Kent USA. “All were quickly located and confirmed safe by our Guardian Angels within an hour after the fire first broke out.
A&K gathered its team of Paris guides together to discuss how to change their programs while Notre Dame is being rebuilt.
“We will be recommending a visit to Sainte-Chapelle, an awe-inspiring royal chapel within the medieval Palais de la Cite and home to Christ’s Crown of Thorns,” said Fawcett. “From Sainte-Chapelle, guests can view the exterior of Notre Dame, as well as Paris’ Left Bank. Most importantly, it is also under the stewardship of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the organization which now has the task of rebuilding Notre Dame, so A&K and our guests will be financially contributing to the reconstruction.”
France is one of A&K’s top-selling destinations, and bookings for 2019 are up year over year. “We believe the worldwide attention and support shown in the face of this loss will inspire more people to visit Paris in the coming months,” said Fawcett.
Aux armes, citoyens!
Over at Tauck, similar machinations went into motion upon hearing the news of the fire, with the logisticians of travel quickly moving forward from the sense of loss to an assessment of what has been saved and what can be restored.
“Like everyone, we were shocked and saddened by Monday’s horrible fire at Notre Dame, and we’re heartened by the fact that the human toll and the devastation to the cathedral weren’t worse,” said Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president of Tauck Land Journeys.
“As for the impacts from the fire, it’s just too early to tell. In the short term, it’s likely that a few people might decide to defer a trip to Paris to a later time, while many, many others will feel – admirably – a very strong urge to support the city and its people during a difficult time. We stand firmly with Paris, and we’re looking forward to bringing many Tauck groups there over the coming months. Longer term, we know that Paris will remain one of the world’s most desirable cities, and like everyone, we’re looking forward to the full reconstruction and restoration of Notre Dame.”
Independently, tour operators came to a consensus. It is impossible at this early juncture to predict exactly what effect the fire will have on tourism. But the most likely scenario is that it will not have a significant negative effect on the numbers of people traveling to Paris, or on their enthusiasm for the destination. It may well have the opposite effect, arousing more interest and passion for visiting the City of Light.
“It’s too early to measure the impact of the Notre Dame Cathedral on tourism,” said Jack E. Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays. “As one of the most visited religious sites in Paris and Europe as a whole, there will be some impact during the peak summer travel season, but it’s difficult to quantify today.”
No one reported any noticeable change in booking patterns after the tragic news.
Although “deeply saddened by the destruction of beautiful historic architecture,” Paul Barry, president of Avanti Destinations, said, “as a business, we have not seen any cancellations of trips to Paris or any drop in the number of requests to go there.”
“It is still too early to tell what impact, if any, the Notre Dame fire will have on travel to France," said Guy Young, chief engagement officer of The Travel Corporation. "We have not seen any cancelations or any noticeable changes in booking patterns. France, and Paris in particular, is one of the world’s great destinations. If there is any impact on travel, I have absolutely no doubt that Paris will recover.”
Referring to the devastating terrorist attacks on Paris in 2015, Young predicted a strong recovery from whatever damage the fire might have on tourism to France.
“Shortly after the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, our ownership was faced with the decision on whether to move forward with a new ship for Uniworld on the Seine,” said Young. “We were then, as we are now, confident in France as a tourist destination and wanted to do all we could to support the recovery. Uniworld did end up building the SS Joie de Vivre, a magnificent ship that launched in 2017 and has sold out in its first two years of operation.
“We plan to support France and, given the passionate responses that we have seen to the Notre Dame fire, guests and operators will be keen to keep traveling to France to help support the vitally important tourism sector and, either directly or indirectly, contribute to the rebuilding of Notre Dame.”