Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent says he is so upset by the war in the Persian Gulf that he is not sure he can present his collection here next week. Rival designer Karl Lagerfeld says he will put on his fashion show but that the look will be subdued, in keeping with the times.
Cities throughout Germany have canceled their festive spring carnivals and parades. The carnival committee in Mainz pulled the plug on its annual television production, “Mainz as It Sings and Laughs,” presumably because no one in that Rhineland city felt much like singing and laughing with much of the world at war.
Grand hotels in London, Paris and Rome report empty rooms and restaurants. “Since the war,” said Jean Pierre Allais, food and beverage manager of Paris’ Royal Monceau Hotel, a favorite of American and Arab business travelers, “we have had continual cancellations day after day.”
Meanwhile, Vienna has called off the Opera Ball, the main Austrian social event of the year, and Monaco has put a stop to the Big Top by canceling the popular International Circus Festival in Monte Carlo.
These are somber times on the Old Continent. The war with Iraq has emptied department stores, slowed all kinds of tourism and generally cut into the high life in Europe. Taxi drivers complain of fewer fares. Jumbo jets arrive at European airports with only a handful of passengers.
“People don’t want to use airplanes anymore,” says Susanne Moritz, an agent with Euro Lloyd Travel Agency in Berlin. “We are asked to change air bookings to train bookings. . . . My main job these days is booking cancellations or rebooking.”
Coupled with the effects of the American recession on the world economy, the war mood has soured everything from movie attendance on the Champs Elysees to the black-market theater-ticket business in London’s West End.
One London theater ticket scalper complained this week that he can’t find takers for his 90 ($175) seats for the hit show “Miss Saigon.” Normally he would have a ready market among visiting American tourists.
Likewise, Bertie Critchly, representative of Ablemarle of London, a legitimate theater ticket booking agency, says his sales are down 25% to 30%. “We have big West End hotels calling us with only 15 guests!” he exclaimed. “It’s badly affecting our business.”
The decline in tourism is attributed mainly to the fact that Americans and Japanese, the mainstays of the foreign tourist market, do not feel safe traveling abroad during a time of threatened terrorism produced by the war. Travel agents talk about the “Lockerbie effect” when they discuss the drop in business, referring to the December, 1988, terrorist bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Scotland.
Tourism is already down 50% in Berlin, said Helmut Oergel, assistant manager of the German capital’s Tourist Information office. If there were another Lockerbie-type attack, he says, he fears business would drop by a total of 75%.
“What’s most striking is that the Americans have stopped traveling,” says Fabienne Tohne, a spokeswoman for the French union of travel agents in Paris. “It even affects business travel because companies have banned their employees from going abroad.
“One could say that American tourism has dropped 100%. It is practically nonexistent. We had hoped that we would not be very affected since at the beginning of the (gulf) crisis there was only a little decline. But since the war it’s been terrible.”
Most big hotels report occupancy down at least 50%. Officials at the Hilton Hotel, near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, say the hotel’s trade has dropped to only one-third its normal traffic for this time of year.
“The only people still traveling are the Europeans, and even that business is weak,” says Michel Bonnetot, manager of the George V Hotel in Paris. “The North American clientele that is the main part of our business is nonexistent at this time.”
The absence of foreign visitors in a tourist mecca like Paris gives the city a ghostlike appearance. Traffic is light. Special-forces police, dressed in navy-blue jump suits and bulletproof vests, are not a very welcoming site around the city’s main monuments.
The wartime doldrums have even reached normally tranquil, serene settings like Salzburg, Austria, where the city promoters were hoping for a record number of visitors to help celebrate the 200th anniversary of the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Wolfgang Rinner, director of publicity for Salzburg, says one-third of the reservations for the year already have been canceled. And, he predicts, “the cancellation wave has not reached its peak.”
Meanwhile, the big question in Paris this week was whether the military runways of Saudi Arabia and Iraq would disrupt the high-fashion runways of the French capital, where the annual haute couture collections are about to be presented.
The French fashion industry is remembered, not always favorably, for continuing to present its collections in World War II, including during the Nazi occupation of Paris. (Indeed, much of Paris culture continued throughout that conflict: Plays were presented and films were made.)
But a number of top American models and fashion journalists already have said they will not attend this year’s shows, scheduled to begin Saturday.
In an interview with Suzy Menkes, fashion writer for the International Herald Tribune, Yves Saint Laurent director Pierre Berge said the leading French high-fashion house would consider canceling its collection if things get even worse in the gulf.
“We simply don’t know if the situation will be more serious in a week’s time,” Berge says. “I’m not sure that Yves and I will want to show if there are people being killed.”
Times researchers Reane Oppl in Bonn, Petra Falkenberg in Berlin, Judy Ross in London and Sarah White in Paris contributed to this story.