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OPINION

BUSINESS

‘France still open for business and pleasure’

The Paris attacks have not only hit France emotionally, but also economically. Bob Lewis, President of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce, explains why foreigners should not put off business trips or deals with France.

'France still open for business and pleasure'
With extra police on hand, locals flock to an eastern France Christmas market. Photo: AFP

The period since the terrible events of November 13th has been a difficult one for us all. Everybody knows somebody in Paris, and the digitally connected era we live in makes that person or persons seem closer than ever, and the tragedy all the more real.

Like many of you, in the hours and days that followed, I received not just messages of sympathy but genuine outpourings of concern, sometimes from quite surprising people and places.

Having spent most of my career with one foot on either side of the Channel, the economic fortunes of the UK and France have always seemed intertwined, perhaps artificially at times. When you are in charge of sales across a whole region, then how the UK and France are performing is part of the same train of thought.

What struck me though in many of the sympathy messages I received, was just how many people reached out to me who do not have any direct business link to France. They are simply people from outside of France who were concerned by events. Their day-to-day work does not put the UK and France, or the USA and France in the same thought process, and it is to those people to whom I appeal for support.

When I was interviewed by BBC radio last week about how business life in Paris was managing to carry on despite the terrible events, the focus was very much on what the reality was for those of us working here. 

READ ALSO: Paris finally draws breath after the attacks

Bob Lewis

I read in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that economic indicators are beginning to show signs of a slowdown in activity in France. This particular downturn should not be confused with the global slowdown we are experiencing which is mostly due to falling oil prices, low demand in China and India, as well as signs of weakening consumer demand in the US and the UK. 

We should be mindful that perhaps those are stronger reasons for any current slowdown we are seeing rather than the knee jerk reaction of currency and stock markets. Tourism and travel represent 10 percent of GDP in France but the effects of these events will not be seen in P&L for months to come.

Taking this into account, it made me think about what we can all do to ensure that the economic impact of recent events is limited. For those of us living and working in Paris, it is going to be business as usual in the weeks and months to come. “Getting on with things” is part of the coping mechanism that will help us through this.

I’d also like to appeal to those people who do not have direct ties to France, to those people whose remit doesn’t include their French business, to express their solidarity with us by not forgetting that it is in the weeks and months to come that France will need support.

Don’t put off that business trip or cancel that meeting. Do hold that seminar you had planned. Take that plane ticket with a layover at CDG. Keep thinking about business opportunities in France.

If you are thinking about business people you know here, then also think about how you might be able to talk about business opportunities with them next time you make contact. We’re doing business here still, so help us by thinking about how you could be too.

Keep coming to visit. Come for weekends. Don’t delay booking your holidays or mini breaks. Tell those close to you that France is still open for business and for pleasure.

The spirit of togetherness which people of both countries have shown in recent days has demonstrated that the people of the UK and France have a bond which runs very deep. Let’s all make sure that we see the positive side of this, and channel the recognition of a common purpose into something constructive. With your help, we can ensure that France will get through this stronger than ever.

We’ll never forget what happened, but we will always remember how “solidarité” got us through.

Bob Lewis is the President of the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the voice of Franco-British business in France. For more information on the FBCCI you can visit its website www.francobritishchamber.com

READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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