The terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 killed 130 people and injured more than 350, and not just anywhere. The terrorists specifically targeted several of the city’s event venues. Eighty-nine people died at the Bataclan theater, and the terrorists also set off explosions around the Stade de France, during a soccer game that French President François Hollande was attending.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Paris’ meetings community did what it could for groups whose conference and events were already underway. It also set its sights on ensuring the safety and security of future programs, including COP 21, the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, on Nov. 3–Dec. 11. Convene talked to Clément Laloux, marketing manager for the Paris Convention & Visitors Bureau, at the beginning of December.
When and how did you first learn about the attacks?
I was at home, very close to one of the areas where the attacks took place. I first heard a lot of sirens outside and then watched the news. When I realized what was going on, I called and texted all my friends, relatives, and members of my team to warn them and be sure they were all safe.
Was it particularly upsetting to you as a CVB that the primary target of the attacks seemed to be event venues?
Before thinking about the specific locations, we did think about Paris itself and about the victims, no matter who and where they were. And if we can say, more than event venues, they are places of our daily life, where visitors but obviously Parisians — including myself — go every day. This was an attack on our way of life!
These attacks are of course impacting the meeting industry in Paris and tourism in general. The week after the attacks, the Paris CVB was in Barcelona for ibtm World. Many clients came to announce cancellations for the coming weeks, especially long-haul clients. Now the situation is stabilized, and we have received leads for projects in 2016.
Were there many business groups having meetings and conferences in Paris at the time? How did you reach out to them in the aftermath of the attacks?
November isn’t the peak season in Paris, but some important trade shows and conferences are held at that time of year. We had, for example, a big international congress from the European Wind Energy Association, which started three days after the attacks. The congress happened and went very well, actually. More than 7,000 people attended.
We also had a big incentive of 4,000 people from the Chinese group Pro-Health. During the whole weekend, we were in touch with them, as their program was totally upside-down. They have been very reactive, and us, too, and I would like to thank Pro-Health for deciding to stay in Paris.
We were all very upset for the COP 21, the international UN climate summit, and very relieved when the [French] government announced that it was maintained. Just one big event has been postponed one day after the attacks — the annual congress of French mayors; it was for a political reason, as it was more important for them to stay in their own towns during these difficult days.
What about future meetings and events?
From the first weekend after the events, we decided to gather and inform our clients and partners (as a nonprofit association, we have about 1,800 members — representative of different fields, hotels, venues, DMCs, restaurants, etc.). It was especially important to give clear messages and explain what was the exact situation in terms of security, borders, but also give practical information on what was open or closed (cultural sites, transports, venues). The week after the attacks, we updated our website on a daily basis to give the latest information to our visitors, and we had two meetings with officials from the Ministry [of Foreign Affairs and International Development, which oversees tourism in France] and the police to gather all the latest news and give a precise idea of what had been decided.
To sum up, we would like to encourage visitors and companies to be faithful to our destination. Paris is safe. And let me add that there are now opportunities and availabilities in venues and hotels that meeting planners can take advantage of!