Paris shops feel the pinch as virus keeps Chinese tourists away

By Matthias Blamont and Johnny Cotton

PARIS (Reuters) – For some shopkeepers in Paris, home to prestigious stores where Chinese tourists love to splurge, an abrupt drop-off in visitors as tries to contain fast-spreading coronavirus health crisis hitting hard.

“If it goes on like this will not have my job anymore,” said Chomphunut Supraditapron, a manager at Paris Look, a duty free outlet in the city center that sells pricey cosmetics from French brands like Lancome and Chanel.

The store – which derives around half its clientele from and is usually packed with Chinese shoppers, especially during the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays – was nearly empty on Thursday.

“We need Chinese customers because it is Chinese customers who buy the most,” Supraditapron said.

The influx of tourists traveling to Paris from China – as well as to other major tourist destinations around the world – has dried up as the Chinese government enforces travel restrictions on some cities, including to and from Wuhan, where the virus originated.

Estimates of the impact on businesses from hotels to high-end stores in France are still scarce.

But Chinese shoppers have become an increasingly important motor for these enterprises, spending an average of 1,024 euros ($1,136.03) when in Paris, usually for around 5 nights, compared with 640 euros forked out by visitors from elsewhere, according to Paris’ regional tourism board.

In 2018, some 2.2 million Chinese nationals visited France.

“The crisis is deepening and we are witnessing some kind of hysteria,” Didier Kling, the head of the Paris chamber of commerce said, adding that he feared museums and shops would be affected.

“It is all about getting an idea of whether this epidemic will be contained quickly or if it will last.”

Jean-Virgile Crance, president of a federation which represents around 4,000 hotels in France, said initial data showed a marginal effect of cancellations on revenue.

But some facilities dealing specifically with Chinese clients could see revenue fall by some 30% by the end of the first quarter, he said.

A spokeswoman for the family-owned Galeries Lafayette department store group, which has a shop dedicated to Chinese clients in central Paris, declined to comment on whether the group was taking special measures or on the impact on demand.

But Fouzia Es Salmi, a staff representative for the CGT union at Galeries Lafayette, said footfall was down. Many among the dwindling number of Chinese customers were wearing protective face masks.

French customers were also staying away, she added.

“There is a sort of psychosis that has set in,” she said.

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont, Johnny Cotton ; Additional reporting by Sarah White; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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