France has most to lose from US travel terror threat alert


France has the most to lose from a U.S. travel alert that has warned citizens about the risk of terror threats across Europe this summer, an industry expert told CNBC.

The alert released Tuesday highlighted increased likelihood of attacks across the continent, particularly around tourist sites, transport and restaurants, stressing that major events like the Catholic Church's World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, as well as the Euro Cup soccer championship hosted by France between June 10 to July 10, could be targeted.

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"Euro Cup stadiums, fan zones, and unaffiliated entertainment venues broadcasting the tournaments in France and across Europe represent potential targets for terrorists, as do other large-scale sporting events and public gathering places throughout Europe," the U.S. State Department's website read.

The alert, which will expire August 31, also covers the Tour de France which runs from July 2 to 24. The release noted that France extended its own state of emergency to cover both the soccer championship and cycling race.

U.S. travelers might consider cancelling or altering their trips in the wake of the U.S. travel alert and France could face the largest downturn, given that it's set to host some of the largest events, Wouter Geerts, a travel analyst with Euromonitor International told CNBC.

"With France one of the main destinations for U.S. tourists, it is likely that the French tourist industry will be hardest hit by this travel alert, especially in light of the Paris terrorist attacks,"

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U.S. arrivals to France totaled 3,280,190 in 2015, according to Euromonitor statistics, up from 3,168,900 million a year earlier. While Geerts said we can expect a decline in U.S. tourists visiting the country over the coming summer, the effect will be subdued.

"It is unlikely that this decline will be in double digits, however, as France is a key destination with a wide range of attractions, and many travellers will feel that outside the main cities and beyond the main sporting events, the country is relatively safe," he added.

David Scowsill, President & CEO at the World Travel & Tourism Council, also played down the impact that the travel alert would have on visitor volumes.

"I don't think it'll make a huge difference," he told CNBC on Wednesday, explaining that while warnings on particular events like the Euro Cup is new, similar travel advisories have been in place since March, following the coordinated terrorist bombings that shook Belgium's capital, targeting the Brussels airport and metro.

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"The overall picture is that bookings are very strong, the strength of the dollar means that people want to come to Europe and travelers generally are a lot more resilient than perhaps they were maybe 15-20 years ago," Scowsill said.

However, terror attacks abroad in places like Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt have actually led to a redistribution of tourists to European destinations, experts explained.

Geerts said that the "substitution effect" has led tourists to "safer destinations" around the Mediterranean, like Malta, Cyprus and Croatia, and Portugal, all of which are seeing double digit tourism growth. Germany and the Netherlands, he added, "are also performing above average." Arrivals to Spain alone have jumped 14 percent since the start of 2016, according to Euromonitor.

"Overall the volumes will not drop within Europe," Scowsill said.