France’s tourism challenges: floods, strikes and security

Skift take

Tourism in France may encounter some difficulties, but it has never bounced back. And with the euro falling against the dollar and the pound, its outlook is even better this season, despite the many setbacks.

Raphael Satter, Associated Press

The weather is appalling, striking workers and widespread flooding are causing travel chaos and fears for safety following last year’s deadly extremist attacks in Paris linger.

Welcome to France and especially to its capital.

French tourism has been an uncomfortable time – and officials fear new issues could damage the country’s image as it prepares to host Europe’s main sporting event – the European Championship football tournament 2016.

“I must admit that the strikes, the rains, the attacks, they really damaged the image of France for our foreign tourist friends”, declared Hervé Becam, vice-president of the union of hoteliers of France.

Becam says hotel occupancy rates have fallen by around 25% in Paris, but with Euro 2016 starting next Friday, the situation could turn around again. Paris is one of the nine French cities hosting the tournament which captivates Europe for a month.

Others in the country’s tourism sector have urged workers angry at the government’s proposed changes to drop their repeated strikes and protests – some of which have left long lines at gas stations, shortages fuel and bridges blocked by barricades.

“There is still time to save the tourist season by putting an end to these blockages broadcast around the world,” said Frédéric Valletoux, chairman of the tourism commission for the Paris region.

His call, however, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

On Thursday, strikers created blackouts by cutting power to a major power line in western France, while other protesters briefly occupied the tracks of a Parisian railway junction.

More strikes are planned in the coming days, as unions and the government are engaged in a bitter struggle over changes in the French labor market making it easier to hire and fire workers.

Record rainfall adds to the misery. Due to the flooding along the Seine, which winds through the capital, the French authorities have closed a multitude of the nation’s monuments: the Louvre museum, the national library, the Orsay museum and the Grand Palais, the glass and the striking glass of Paris -exhibition center topped with steel, to name a few. The Louvre won’t reopen until Wednesday at the earliest.

The rising waters also disrupted rail traffic, closed several metro stations in the capital, flooded roads and engulfed the banks of the Seine, forcing riverside restaurants to close.

Persistent concerns are also still present about the security situation in Paris, a city that has seen two bloody attacks by Muslim fanatics in the past 18 months. There has been speculation that suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Brussels on March 22 originally planned to strike at the European Championships.

The French government says some 90,000 police, soldiers, private guards and others will provide security for the football tournament.

But on Friday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve admitted that the Paris police prefect was demanding more security personnel to protect football fans. Cazeneuve did not say how much more staff Paris had requested, but said authorities “are now working to adjust the workforce to ensure maximum security.”

“I cannot guarantee that we will not have a confrontation with terrorists,” he added.

Despite the worries and the weather, France is still one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Travel insurance provider Allianz said the number of Americans booking summer vacations to Paris was virtually unchanged from last year. And a Parisian taxi driver said tourism has rebounded somewhat since the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris.

“The first three months (after the attacks) were really tough,” said taxi driver Youness Chouli, 32, as he walked the cobbled streets of the capital. “It came back, but it’s not like last year.

Visitors interviewed at the Trocad̩ro, the rain-slipped esplanade with a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower, were not discouraged by the threat of an attack Рnor by the strikes or the rain, for that matter.

Erik Leslie, 33, who was visiting Paris with his family, said he was not wasting energy worrying about another attack.

“What are the chances of this happening again?” He asked, adding that if strikes became a problem, “we were just going to trudge”.

Canadian tourist Hélène Gazaille, who was traveling to Paris to celebrate her 50th birthday, was not let up by the weather and suggested that the strikes were part of the incomparable French experience.

“We heard there had been a lot of protests but that it was typical,” she said, water dripping from her disposable raincoat. “It’s a ritual of the country.

This article was written by Raphael Satter of The Associated Press and has been legally licensed by the NewsCred editor network.

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