Attack in Nice: Should tourists stay away from France's Riviera?

Story highlights

  • Nice is France's second most visited destination
  • U.S. State Department advises citizens to be vigilant if visiting
  • Expert says tourism likely to take a hit, but will bounce back

(CNN)Midsummer typically sees huge numbers of visitors descend on Nice, right in the heart of France's beautiful Mediterranean Riviera.

That's likely to change quickly after Thursday's devastating attack in which a truck was driven into a crowd of people celebrating France's Bastille Day, leaving dozens dead.
    On Friday, the city's beachfront, normally teeming with people, was deserted. Neat rows of beach loungers lay empty under closed-up sun parasols.
    According to experts, though Nice and France, among the world's leading tourism destinations, will suffer in the immediate aftermath, both are likely to weather the storm long-term.
    But the attack will undoubtedly deal a painful blow to France's tourism industry -- already battered by earlier terrorist attacks -- particularly since the region -- Nice and the surrounding Cote d'Azur -- is one of its chief assets.
    Data from market researchers Euromonitor reveal that after Paris, Nice is France's most visited destination, pulling in 2.2 million foreign arrivals in 2015

    Abandoned countries

    Stunning architecture, world-class museums, beautiful beaches, regular sunshine and the blue warm waters of the Mediterranean are among assets attracting bigger crowds every year.
    Nice's normally teeming Promenade des Anglais seafront stands deserted.
    Though accessible to all budgets, the region has long been a favorite among the wealthy, with yachts and superyachts filling up the marinas of Nice and neighboring riviera resort towns during the summer.
    The main fear now for France's tourism industry is that the Bastille Day attack will trigger a response similar to that experienced by countries such as Turkey and Egypt.
    Both have been largely abandoned by vacationers in the wake of recent terrorist incidents.
    Unsurprisingly, travel stocks have plummeted in response to the incident as markets were spooked by the prospect of hotel, airline and other leisure-related industries taking a hit.
    So far, while urging some caution due to an ongoing state of emergency -- now extended to July 26 -- travel advice issued by foreign governments has not attempted to dissuade travel to France.
    The U.S. State Department said its citizens "should exercise vigilance in public and residential areas and tourist destinations."
    It also warned of possible disruptions to public and private transport.
    The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office also recommended heightened vigilance, warning of a "high threat from terrorism" amid possible reprisals over French efforts to tackle the extremist group ISIS -- also known as Daesh.
    "Due to ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups, and recent French military intervention against Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), the French government has warned the public to be especially vigilant and has reinforced its security measures," it said.

    Bounce back?

    Despite initial warnings for people to stay indoors in Nice following Thursday's attack, the city has remained open to visitors with flights taking off and landing from its airport as usual.
    However, the seafront Promenade des Anglais, scene of the attack, and other public beaches in and around Nice were closed Friday.
    Wouter Geerts, Euromonitor travel analyst, says that some people planning trips to Nice -- and France -- are likely to now stay away, but the country's tough security stance to earlier extremist massacres should help limit the fallout.
    "When Paris was attacked earlier this year, it initially had quite a slump, but then it was bouncing back quite well," he says. "For Nice, probably the same will happen."
    However, he did warn that the effect of cumulative atrocities in France could eventually have a longer-term impact.
    "The perception of people after the Paris attack was of shock but not necessarily that France itself is dangerous.
    "Now that it's happened in Nice, that might start to change people's perceptions and they might start to think that maybe it's not as safe a place as we think, and that might have a negative impact on arrivals to France."
    In France's favor, he adds, is the relative success of its recent Euro 2016 soccer tournament and the trouble-free running of cycling's Tour de France, which runs until July 24.
    "The government, police and security bodies are showing they've a good grasp over what's going," Geerts says. "In the short-term there's going to be impact, but in the long-term France is still seen as a relatively safe destination."