France

‘We knew it would happen some day’: France’s ‘capital of Christmas’ left to count cost of terror

Strasbourgs reputation for being the French Capital of Christmas is a well-founded one. The citys Marché de Noel is believed to be the oldest in Europe, the first Christkindelsmärik being held in 1570.

Last year, it drew two million visitors from France and further afield, more than any other Christmas market in the country. Strasbourgs most celebrated festival also offers a huge financial boost to the eastern city every year, and there has even talk of it becoming a UNESCO heritage site.

All these sources of pride and profit are now under threat following Tuesdays gunning down of fifteen Strasbourg Christmas market-goers by a lone assailant, three of whom have died and twelve of whom are injured.

The psychological scars and subsequent fear effect that such ruthless attacks leave on a citys spirit will no doubt hit attendance hard at this and other marchés de noel across France in the days to come.

So far Strasbourg mayor Roland Ries along with the organizers of Strasbourgs Christmas Market (which was scheduled to run from November 23 to December 30) have only announced that market stalls be be closed on Wednesday December 12, as well as all other related events being cancelled in the city five kilometres from the German border.

If Christmas 2018 were to be literally cancelled as a result of the attack, vendors, hotel owners and anyone else with financial links to the citys tourism industry would feel the pinch.

According to 2016 figures published by Alsaces Regional Tourism Observatory, Strasbourgs Christmas market costs the city €2 million to organize but pours €250 million back into the local economy every year.

December alone represents 15 percent of Strasbourg hoteliers annual turnover, with occupation reaching 80 percent during the busy Christmas period. Such is the demand from home and abroad for accommodation that prices are put up by 30 percent during December, making a one-stay in a three-star hotel more expensive on average than Paris.

And while Strasbourg may stand head and heels ahead of the rest of France when it comes to Christmas-themed hype and profits, the historic and cultural region in which it lies – Alsace (what is now known as Grand-Est region) – is an overall Christmas market powerhouse.

Colmar, Nancy, Metz, Sélestat, Mulhouse, Haguenau: all these Alsatian towns and cities a stones throw from Strasbourg hold Christmas markets renowned for their warmth and authenticity.

Their local economies also receive a major boost during the festive period, a trend which could be bucked if attendees lose confidence in the regions Christmas markets as a safe haven for couples and families.

None of them have announced they will close their marchés on Wednesday following the Tuesday attack on Strasbourg, but extra security forces will be deployed in all Christmas markets across Alsace and France as a whole.

Strasbourg authorities have previously considered the threat of a terror attack on the millions marketer-goers they receive each year, bumping up the security budget from €250,000 in 2015 to €450,000 in 2016 following several terror attacks in the French capital.

Increased security reinforcements have also been deployed in other Alsatian Christmas markets, even though none can be deemed as big a target for extremists as the French capital of Christmas: Strasbourg.

"We knew his was going to happen one day," a Strasbourg resident told French daily Libération. "We knew the city was a target, especially at Christmas. We just weren't expecting it to happen tonight."

"There's no such thing as zero risk," mayor Roland Ries told AFP in 2017. The market was the target of a terror attack in 2000 but the terrorists were thwarted and arrested before they could carry out the attack.

Original Article

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