22-Aug, 04:14

04:30, January 23 258 0

2017-01-23 04:30:09
Paris Fights the Effects of Crimes Against the Very Rich

It is known as the City of Light. But a shadow has been cast over Paris, where some of the wealthiest women in the world have arrived for the start of the January couture shows.

Instead of swanning freely into the arching halls of the Grand Palais and other local landmarks where the lavish défilés are held, most will be forced to open their handbags, doff their furs and regularly submit to full body-wand checks at almost every event as part of stringent new security measures.

Terrorist attacks and a spate of vicious high-profile robberies have tarnished the French capital’s reputation as a playground for the very rich, and raised concerns that the clients usually wooed during such fashion events may start to avoid them.

In October, thieves broke into the residence of Kim Kardashian West during Paris Fashion Week, tied her up and stole millions of dollars worth of jewels.

In November, the Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat and her French partner were tear-gassed by three masked assailants in a botched robbery.

And five days later, two Qatari sisters lost valuables worth $5.3 million when three balaclava-clad robbers targeted their chauffeur-driven Bentley on the highway from the airport. The sisters apparently had been tracked from the moment their private jet had landed.

There are indications that heightened fears for personal safety have led many high-net-worth individuals, particularly from Asia and the Middle East, to think twice about visiting (and spending) in Paris. Hotel occupancy rates, restaurant reservations and boutique foot traffic all fell steadily over the course of last year, with European destinations, particularly Switzerland and London, benefiting from Paris’s fall from favor.

Some visitors who can afford to are spending hundreds of euros a day on increased protection.

“There’s no question in my mind that these robberies will play heavily on the mind of shoppers and travelers from the Gulf,” Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, a Saudi Arabian princess who is editor of Vogue Arabia, said following the Kardashian West attack in October. “We’ve supported the city, and its luxury houses, for a long time. But people will think twice about visiting, for sure.”

In recent years Paris has brought in more than 10 billion euros ($10.6 billion) in luxury-sales revenue annually, according to Bain & Company, the business management consultancy, with almost two-thirds of that from foreign visitors. So the Paris-based titans of the luxury industry are going to new lengths to keep those shoppers coming back.

Few of these companies will comment on the situation. But in December, Comité Colbert, the French luxury association whose members include Cartier and Hôtel Le Bristol, invited 100 international big spenders to the city for a free trip with a range of money-can’t-buy experiences. Around a week later, Chanel held its Métiers d’Art show at the Ritz, inspired by (yes) Paris. And Monday night, just hours after its show, Dior is scheduled to hold a masked ball.

The message that Paris is safe is one that the mayor’s office is eager to reinforce. Manuel Valls, who was prime minister at the time of the Kardashian attack, in November announced a government plan to spend about 10 million euros on video surveillance and other security measures near museums, monuments, hotels and other tourist areas in the Paris region, including the A1 highway where the Qatari sisters were robbed.

“Paris is the first tourist destination in the world,” Jean-François Martins, deputy mayor in charge of tourism, said last week. “Incidents sometimes make headlines, for example about Kim Kardashian, but these acts are very rare and exist in all the cities of the world.”

In Paris, Mr. Martins said, police statistics show that burglaries fell by 11 percent from 2013 to 2016, and violent robberies by 28 percent over the same span. “We are therefore safer in Paris today than three years ago, and as well safer than most of other major cities,” he said.

Marc-André Kamel, the Paris-based head of Bain’s retail practice for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, said that there were plenty of reasons for the city’s travel slump besides personal-safety issues.

“Changes in visa regulations for Chinese visitors made a big impact, as did the considerable shifts in currency valuations,” Mr. Kamel said last week. “The weak pound has made Britain a very attractive place to visit for tourists, even the most wealthy ones, who can get far more for their money there.”

“Concerns over security are an issue for Paris, of course,” he said. “But they are hitting other countries, too, like Germany. And don’t forget: The Paris luxury market alone is the same size as that of the whole of the U.K.”