French tourism faces challenges

OVER FLOODS, STRIKES AND SE­CU­RITY CON­CERNS

Business Mirror - - THE WORLD - AP

PARIS—The weather is aw­ful, strik­ing work­ers and wide­spread flood­ing are caus­ing travel chaos and se­cu­rity fears, fol­low­ing deadly ex­trem­ist at­tacks last year in Paris still linger in peo­ple’s minds.

Wel­come to France—and es­pe­cially its cap­i­tal city.

It’s been an un­com­fort­able time for French tourism—and officials worry that fur­ther trou­ble could dam­age the coun­try’s im­age just as it pre­pares to host Europe’s lead­ing sports event—the 2016 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship soccer tour­na­ment.

“I have to ad­mit that the strikes, the rains, the at­tacks—they re­ally dam­aged the im­age of France for our for­eign tourist friends,” says Herve Be­cam, vice pres­i­dent of France’s union of hote­liers.

Be­cam says ho­tel-oc­cu­pancy rates were down about 25 per­cent in Paris, but with Euro 2016 start­ing next Friday, the sit­u­a­tion could still turn around. Paris is one of nine French cities host­ing the tour­na­ment that cap­ti­vates Europe for a month.

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

“There’s still time to save the tourist sea­son by putting an end to th­ese block­ages be­ing broad­cast world­wide,” said Frédéric Val­letoux, head of the Paris region’s tourism com­mit­tee.

His ap­peal, how­ever, ap­pears to have fallen on deaf ears.

On Thurs­day strik­ing work­ers cre­ated black­outs by cut­ting power to a big elec­tric­ity line in western France, while other protesters briefly oc­cu­pied train tracks at a Paris rail­way hub.

More strikes are planned for the com­ing days, with unions and the gov­ern­ment locked into a tug-ofwar over changes to France’s la­bor mar­ket, mak­ing it easier to hire and fire work­ers.

A record rain­fall is adding to the mis­ery. Due to flood­ing along the Seine River, which winds its way through the cap­i­tal, French author­i­ties have shut down a host of the na­tion’s land­marks: The Lou­vre mu­seum, the na­tional li­brary, the Or­say mu­seum and the Grand Palais, Paris’s strik­ing glass-and-steel topped exhibition cen­ter, to name a few. The Lou­vre is not reopening un­til Wed­nes­day at the ear­li­est.

The ris­ing waters have also dis­rupted rail traf­fic, shut­tered sev­eral of the cap­i­tal’s subway sta­tions, flooded roads and en­gulfed the Seine’s em­bank­ments, forc­ing river­side restau­rants to close down.

Per­sis­tent wor­ries are also still in play about the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Paris, a city that has seen two bloody at­tacks by Mus­lim zealots in the past 18 months. There’s been spec­u­la­tion that the sui­cide bombers who blew them­selves up in Brussels on March 22 ini­tially planned to strike at the Euro championships.

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

But on Friday In­te­rior Min­is­ter Bernard Cazeneuve ad­mit­ted that the Paris po­lice chief was de­mand­ing more se­cu­rity staff to pro­tect soccer fans. Cazeneuve did not say how many more per­son­nel Paris had asked for but said author­i­ties “are work­ing now on ad­just­ing staffing to en­sure max­i­mum se­cu­rity.”

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

De­spite the wor­ries and the weather, France is still among the world’s very top tourist des­ti­na­tions. Travel in­surance provider Al­lianz said the num­ber of Amer­i­cans book­ing sum­mer va­ca­tions in Paris was vir­tu­ally un­changed over last year. And a Paris taxi driver said tourism had bounced back some- what since the Novem­ber 13 at­tacks that killed 130 peo­ple in Paris.

“The first three months [af­ter the at­tacks] were re­ally tough,” said cab­bie Youness Chouli, 32, as he nav­i­gated the cap­i­tal’s cob­bled streets. “It’s come back, but it’s not the same as last year.”

Vis­i­tors in­ter­viewed at the Tro­cadero, the rain-slicked es­planade with sweep­ing views of the Eif­fel Tower, weren’t put off by the threat of an at­tack—or by the strikes or the rain, for that mat­ter.

Erik Leslie, 33, who was vis­it­ing Paris with his fam­ily, said he was wast­ing no en­ergy wor­ry­ing about an­other at­tack.

“What’re the odds that that’s go­ing to hap­pen again?” he asked, adding that if strikes be­came a prob­lem, “we were just go­ing to trudge for­ward.”

Cana­dian tourist He­lene Gaza­ille, who was tak­ing a trip to Paris to cel­e­brate her 50th birth­day, wasn’t let­ting the weather stop her and sug­gested that strikes were just part of the in­com­pa­ra­ble French ex­pe­ri­ence.

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

25 The per­cent­age in re­duc­tion of ho­tel oc­cu­pancy in Paris

AP/JEROME DE­LAY

PEO­PLE look­ing at the floods stand on the Alma Bridge by the Zouave statue, which is used as a mea­sur­ing in­stru­ment dur­ing floods in Paris, France, on Friday. Both the Lou­vre and Or­say mu­se­ums were closed as the Seine, which officials said was at its high­est level in nearly 35 years, was ex­pected to peak some­time later on Friday.

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