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Travelers Beware: Danger in the City of Lights

Paris has long held the reputation of a premier tourist destination for international travelers. It’s the second most visited city in all of Europe behind London, and for Asian tourists in particular Paris holds a singular regard as the romance and shopping capital of the world.Just under a million Chinese men and women visited Paris last year and spent over a billion euros shopping in the city-more than both the US and Japan. And for a while these numbers were growing rapidly, with a 23% increase in Chinese visitors to France from 2011 to 2012.

Why then are we now seeing a sudden falloff in the number of Asian tourists to Paris?Disappointment, for one. Because of its popularity as a travel destination, Paris is the first experience many Asian tourists have with a Western country, and it can be a rude awakening to the cultural differences between Asia and Europe. Common complaints include the city’s less than pristine streets, dodgy neighborhoods, and occasionally discourteous service.

But the more distressing reason for the close to 50% drop in Chinese tourism over the last year is the recent surge in thefts throughout the city. The staff of the Louvre Museum went on strike this April to protest the increasingly aggressive and, in several cases, violent pickpockets and thieves.

These thieves tend to specifically target Asian visitors because their relative unfamiliarity with the French language and customs make them easier to take advantage of. One of the more extreme cases of this ethnic profiling occurred last March when a group of 23 Chinese tourists were attacked and robbed of 7,500 euros in a suburb north of Paris.

The city of Paris has taken a number of safety measures in response to these incidents, such as increasing security at top tourist attractions and translating pickpocket warnings into Mandarin along the Paris metro.

But while Paris has come under international scrutiny for its increase in thefts, it is certainly not the city with hazards to tourists. In New York or any major city, there is no safeguard quite as effective as taking responsibility for your own security. Traveling in groups, remaining aware of your surroundings, and keeping your valuables out of the reach of pickpockets are all effective precautions for any place you visit.

Sources: Bilefsky, Dan, “Chinese Tourists Find a Movable Feast Best Left Behind,” New York Times, September 20 2014.

Chrisafis, Angelique, “Louvre Closed on Account of Pickpockets,” The Guardian, April 10 2013.