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On July 14, 2016, Nice, France, was rocked as a truck careened into a large crowd of innocent bystanders watching the Bastille Day fireworks celebrations along the waterfront promenade. Eighty-six people were killed, including 10 children and teenagers. More than 300 people were taken to the hospital with injuries. The driver of the truck then proceeded to fire shots before being taken down by local police. This, following the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, has put France on high alert and has raised questions as to whether the destination remains safe for tourism. I asked these questions myself this September as I strolled the Nice promenade that hugs the coast of the Mediterranean.
From a tourist’s perspective, on the surface, Nice is entirely back to normal. Cafes hum busily during the day, while the shoreline is packed with beach bums. At night, the streets are alive with late-night diners and partiers, who chant with conviviality into the early morning hours. Tourists and locals fill shopping streets, squares and even the promenade.
“Tourism, right after the attacks, changed dramatically,” said Kelly McClain, an American expat and nine-year resident of Nice. “It went from busy crowded streets to emptiness. It was a very strange feeling for being the height of tourism season. But now, I think Nice is as safe as much as any city is after an attack on its people. Of course, security has been heightened, and shops are checking every bag before people come into the establishment.”
Nice is the top tourist destination in France after Paris, according to Nice Cote d’Azur Tourisme et Congres (Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau). The destination attracts around 5 million visitors per year and controls about 40 percent of the tourist flow on the French Riviera. It is also one of the top French cruise ports, with 487,440 passengers per year.
But France as a whole has been struggling with tourism numbers, as visitors consider it a hot-button destination. According to the Financial Times, the country saw a 5.8 percent fall in air passenger traffic after the Nice attack compared with the same period the previous year, and hotel reservations in the Riviera region plunged as much as 30 percent in the weeks following the attack. But, as often happens after attacks, whether isolated or not, the problem becomes about media and public perception vs. reality.
“I feel as though life returned back to normal here, but I do still sometimes get on edge when I am on the tram or in a crowded area,” McClain said. “Right after the attacks, Nice became closer as a community, and there was a lot of support for one another.”
That said, there has been an intensified police presence in France overall.
“Today, it’s a massive presence, mostly French troops working in threes and fours with automatic weapons and constantly sweeping the airport terminals, rail stations and the streets of Paris in tourist zones,” said Howard E. Lewis, a travel agent with Protravel International in Beverly Hills, Calif., who spends four months per year in France. “What has changed is that in smaller airports and rail stations all over the country, French troops are out in full force.”
The truth of the matter is that we are living in a different world today. Tensions are heightened everywhere. But avoiding the places in the world that we have come to love is not a solution. LaVonne Markus, a travel agent with Travel Leaders in Stillwater, Minn., who specializes in Europe, is a promoter of smart travel, no matter where it might be.
“Traveling anywhere takes a lot of common sense,” she said. “Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Don’t go out alone, especially at night. If it seems questionable, then listen to yourself and don’t do it.”
Of course, no one could have foreseen a renegade truck barreling into a sidewalk full of pedestrians on what is otherwise supposed to be a jubilant celebration. But not living our lives as we normally would, would be surrendering.
“I think it’s like any other city or community in the world that has risks of danger,” McClain said. “You can’t prepare for the unknown. You just need to listen to your gut instinct.”