Riots in Paris and other French cities over the past five days sent shockwaves around the world. Protesters took to the streets to protest the police’s fatal shooting of a teenager during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb. While French citizens, protestors and critics around the world have decried the shooting as an act of "police brutality," the protests in France later evolved in large-scale street clashes.
Violent skirmishes with police, the burning of cars and attacks on public buildings dominated news headlines. Stores including Nike, Apple and Louis Vuitton’s were scenes of chaos and looting.
On Chinese social media, the protests in France had become one of the top trending topics on Weibo. The hashtag #Frenchriots has generated 320 million views as of publishing.
Although the riots appear to have subsided, the mood in France is tense, many stores on the Champs Élysées remain boarded. The fashion calendar has also been disrupted. Céline canceled its menswear fashion week show, which had been due to take place on Sunday last week. Creative Director Hedi Slimane posted: "A fashion show in Paris, while France and its capital are bereaved and bruised, seems... inconsiderate and totally misplaced," in French on Instagram. Balenciaga also sent out an email stating, “in the context of recent events in France, Balenciaga is canceling the after party scheduled on Wednesday July 5th at 10pm.”
There remains a feeling of tension and unease on the streets in many French cities. International visitors have been urged to take extra precautions. The Chinese Embassy in France, in response to an attack on a bus carrying Chinese tourists in Marseille, issued a safety alert to Chinese nationals.
Street protests are not new to France. However, the scale and scope of violence committed during this latest outbreak of riots has been intense, and brought France into the international spotlight – an unwanted distraction for the iconic “Made in France” identity.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, two million Chinese tourists visited France every year, and luxury shopping was often part of this experience. French businesses are now eager to welcome back Chinese tourists. However, social unrest is not a tourist draw, and safety has emerged as one of Chinese travelers’ greatest concerns when going overseas.
Lu Qiling, a Chinese marketing executive who is visiting France, told Jing Daily that the current situation “kills the joy of visiting Paris.” Negative word-of-mouth could amplify this sentiment.
Alexander Glos, CEO of China i2i Group, accepts that there could be a short-term impact on Chinese travelers, particularly those with less experience of venturing abroad.
“The recent disruptions in the Paris area and other parts of France might cause some hesitation among Chinese travelers when choosing their destinations,” Glos says, adding that he’s confident visitors will return.
“Once the civil unrest is contained or subsides, the media coverage will diminish, and Chinese travelers will once again be eager to visit France,” he says.
France’s brand image is tarnished by the riots, but the country is still a world leader in soft power – a boon for the luxury industry. France, and its capital, are certainly fortunate to enjoy the status of being one of the world’s most attractive tourist destinations. However, Chinese travelers have the option of a broad range of alternative country destinations. Further unrest could create a downward spiral of negative associations.
Rebuilding trust in ‘Brand France’ will be crucial in the short and longer term. Images of burning cars and looted stores are not coherent with the image of a luxury brand destination. Looking forward, the violence will recede into history, and the Paris 2024 Olympics is an opportunity to show that France is ready to “host the world.”
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.