September 19, 2019
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G7 summit throws wet blanket on tourist season in Biarritz

Enrique Rubio

Biarritz, France, Aug 23 (efe-epa).- While it's still summer in this resort city on the Bay of Biscay, the usual throngs of tourists were absent from the streets of Biarritz on Friday amid a smothering security regime for this weekend's G7 summit here.

Sun-seekers who crowded onto the only remaining open beach, Plage Port Vieux, made their way back to their homes and lodgings with their identification badges displayed to avoid hassles with the police.

The city's merchants and restaurateurs are suffering and though the most optimistic residents say that hosting the summit will boost Biarritz's international profile, nobody is happy about the disruption to tourism, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity here.

For every tourist with a camera, there are two cops armed to the teeth.

The security measures are extreme, especially given that the "counter-summit" of protesters was exiled to a spot 30km (18mi) outside the city.

Le coupe faim, a small restaurant serving crepes and ice cream, sits in a prime seaside location and usually stays open until 2 am during the tourist season. This week, the place has been emptying out by midnight.

"August is the fattest month of the year for merchants," the eatery's owner, Michelle Boue, tells Efe. "This is an enormous loss of sales. Everyone is asking: why a G7 summit in August?"

The summit organizers issued each of the roughly 2,000 accredited journalists who came to Biarritz to cover the event a gift card worth 75 euros ($84) to be used exclusively at restaurants in town.

The stated purpose was to encourage reporters to sample the region's Basque cuisine, but helping Biarritz restaurateurs fill empty tables was also a factor.

Authorities have divided the city into color-coded zones for the gathering of heads of state.

The tightest restrictions apply in the red zone, which extends outward from the summit venue at the Hotel du Palais, located on the city's central beach, Le Grande Plage.

Biarritz, Mayor Michel Veunac vowed, "will not be a bunker" during the summit, but "bunker" seems an apt way to describe the city.

"This situation is not very amusing when you're on vacation," said Christelle Lubrano, who came here from Aix-en-Provence on holiday with her husband, while acknowledging the importance of security for the summit.

Seated on a bench next to the beach, retiree Jean-Bernard Etcheverry waxes philosophical.

"It's true that they (the merchants) will be penalized, but you shouldn't look at the short term, rather at the long term. And I am convinced there will benefits because the city will be even more well-known internationally," Etcheverry says.

Alexandre Bellon, a waiter at Cristal Kfe, finds it difficult to be so detached as he contemplates a decline in the number of diners from 300 a day last week to as few as 20 on Friday.

"The city is empty. The beaches, closed. We're not used to a situation like this. We ask ourselves, why didn't they have it (the summit) in May or June," he fumes. EFE


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