Safety concerns keep Paris tourists away

Updated: 2013-03-13 02:56

By Li Xiang (China Daily)

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There is a joke on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, that goes: There are two types of Chinese in Paris — those who have been robbed and those who will be.

It is obviously an exaggeration. But there is some truth behind it because these days, it is not only French luxury brands that are benefiting from Chinese wealth, but also the criminals.

Chinese tourists, often thought to have large amounts of cash with them, have become frequent victims of crime in the French capital. Friends of mine in Paris have had their wallets taken by pickpockets, iPhones and cameras stolen, car windows smashed and their homes burglarized. People even describe being violently assaulted and injured.

I feel terrible when I read countless Weibo posts by Chinese tourists, students and residents about their nightmarish experiences in Paris. This is not the Paris I knew 16 years ago when I visited as a tourist.

Last April I was assigned as the Paris correspondent for China Daily, and I can still recall my surprise at seeing three locks on my apartment door when I moved in. I thought my landlord must be a very cautious person obsessed with security. But now I understand.

Every day I make sure that all three locks on my door are securely bolted before I leave. I am on constant alert when I go out. I wish I had eyes on the back of my head when I walk alone at night. I am scared to answer my iPhone or use it to check messages and e-mails on the metro. I never wear high heels just in case I need to run if something bad happens.

One good part of being scared is that I can easily resist the temptation to shop at luxury stores on Avenue Montaigne because I know even if I bought one of those exquisite purses I would never dare carry it around Paris.

Lately, the situation seems to be getting worse. French newspaper Le Figaro recently reported that the crime rate in Paris has increased dramatically compared with the same period last year. The number of reported thefts in January increased by 65 percent while the number of burglaries jumped by 58.89 percent, according to the report.

French right-wing politicians blame the "explosion of crimes" on Hollande's socialist government's weakness in tackling illegal immigrants. Some say the deteriorating economy and high unemployment rate are to blame. The socialist government says the dramatic rise in crime is the legacy of the previous administration.

While the French economy is suffering a severe downturn, tourism and the fashion industry seem to be the two sectors that still are seeing high growth, thanks to Chinese tourists who are eager to spend.

But a recent report by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum shows that the attractiveness and competitiveness of France's tourism are also in decline. France dropped to seventh in the world ranking in 2012, down from third the previous year, according to the report.

Apart from the insufficient policy support mentioned in the report, the lack of firm and effective measures to address security concerns may also be a factor that contributed to the decline in France's tourism industry.

More and more Chinese tourists have now learned to avoid taking large amounts of cash and always have photocopies of their passports. But the fear is still there, and it can ruin the entire experience in Paris.

If Paris wants to remain attractive to tourists, the city needs to make them feel safe or it risks losing them.

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