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Foreign companies scrap Paris events after terror attacks

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 - 22:15
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Corporate events planned for Paris are going dark as Europe's worst terror attack in a decade spurs foreign companies to scrap visits because of concerns over security and travel disruptions.

[MUNICH] Corporate events planned for Paris are going dark as Europe's worst terror attack in a decade spurs foreign companies to scrap visits because of concerns over security and travel disruptions.

The Netherlands' ABN Amro Bank NV, Japan's Sharp Corp, and home-sharing startup Airbnb Inc are among companies that have curtailed or cancelled events or asked employees to avoid travel to Paris after the Friday assaults that killed at least 129 people.

The cancellations show the uphill struggle faced by France to convince businesspeople, investors and tourists that it can maintain security after its second major terror incident in less than a year. Unlike January's Charlie Hebdo attacks, which mostly targeted the journalists at the satirical newspaper, Friday's assaults felt entirely random, indiscriminately killing Parisians and visitors at cafes, restaurants and a concert hall.

"Our customers are asking if it's safe to stay there or to go there," said Tim Grant, head of travel safety and security assistance at International SOS and Control Risks. "Our main concern is around the disruption that's likely from the security checks," he said, rather than the threat of further violence.

A survey by the Business Travel Coalition, which represents corporate travel managers, found that 20 per cent of respondents said they would likely cancel some trips to France, and 70 per cent would allow employees discretion in deciding whether to make such trips.

On Monday, shares of hotel and transport operators like Accor SA and Air France KLM plunged amid investor worries about a decline in travel to the most-visited country in Europe.

ABN Amro Chief Executive Officer Gerrit Zalm had planned to visit Paris Monday for meetings with investors ahead of the Dutch bank's initial public offering. Those appointments were replaced by conference calls, according to two people familiar with the planning. Earlier, a senior executive at a global investment bank said Asian clients had cancelled a planned trip after the attacks.

Carmaker Mazda, meanwhile, said it would be stricter in approving employees' trips to France for the rest of the year and urged them to postpone travel plans. And electronics giant Sharp has warned its workforce against travelling to the French capital.

"In terms of companies curtailing trips to Paris, my guess is that the business imperative to grow the business means that in six months they'll be rowing back to France," said Charlie Burbridge, head of risk consulting at security advisory firm G4S Plc. "Advising against travelling to France is probably a knee-jerk reaction." Government travel directives reflect ongoing concerns about security. Britain and Canada have recommended extreme caution to citizens visiting Paris, and Australia has advised its residents to "reconsider" their need to travel to the capital and surrounding region.  The US embassy in Paris spiked a presentation of innovations targeted at fighting climate change on Tuesday, which Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was set to attend. The meeting was to be a warm-up for the United Nations climate change conference in Paris starting Nov 30, which will go ahead as planned.

French companies with operations in the Middle East face a different challenge as they step up security because of worries their staff could be targeted by extremists. Total SA, which bought about 18 per cent of its oil and gas from the region last year, said it has raised security measures to the highest level but declined to provide details for fear of forewarning possible attackers. Renault SA, which has manufacturing facilities in Morocco and Algeria, also says it has tightened security.

Two of Paris's signature industries - hospitality and luxury - saw cancellations due to Friday's violence. Airbnb dropped the final day of a gathering of 6,000 property owners from around the world that had started on Thursday and was set to conclude Saturday.  And the New York Times Co postponed a two-day luxury conference in Versailles where attendees including Victoria Beckham, Estee Lauder President John Demsey and Publicis SA Chief Executive Officer Maurice Levy were due to gather to discuss challenges and opportunities for the sector.

BLOOMBERG