Coronavirus empties European cities of Chinese tourists

Hotels, stores and destinations across the Continent have come to rely on visitors from China. Quarantine measures have changed all that.

The line in front of the Louis Vuitton store was barely a line by Paris standards: only 10 people. All were Asian, and many spoke in Chinese, with one couple dictating Mandarin into a smartphone and waiting for the answers in French.

“Sometimes, the line’s been even shorter recently,” Yasmine Ben, who works at a kiosk directly facing the store, said on a recent morning. “Usually, it’s wider, much, much longer, and it snakes around the back.”

Louis Vuitton, in the Galeries Lafayette department store in central Paris, is a favourite stop inside one of the favourite shopping destinations of Chinese tourists to France. And the line there is prime evidence of the growing economic effect that the coronavirus, which broke out in Wuhan, China, late last year, has had on tourism in Paris and elsewhere across Europe.

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Though it is too soon to quantify it precisely, the potential economic effect of the coronavirus is evident nearly everywhere. From the streets of Paris to the wineries of Burgundy, from the German town of Füssen near the fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein to a shopping outlet in Oxfordshire, England, the numbers of Chinese tourists have visibly dropped since Beijing banned overseas group tours January 27.

Fears were heightened over the weekend after an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died of the virus at a hospital in Paris — the first fatality outside Asia since the start of the outbreak.

The effects, especially on businesses catering to the ever-growing Chinese market, have been immediate. Last week, the Italian government considered allocating assistance to hard-hit tour operators.

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