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Paris tourism alive and kicking after terror doldrums

Top Paris attractions are full of life once again as the tourism industry begins its recovery from the drop seen after the terror attacks.

Paris tourism alive and kicking after terror doldrums
Photo: AFP
High-kicking dancers are enthralling full houses again at the Moulin Rouge and art lovers are swarming the Louvre as Paris enjoys a tourism revival after plummeting numbers brought on by terror attacks.
  
Tourists are increasingly refusing to give in to fear of being caught up in a jihadist attack such as the November 2015 bloodbath in the French capital and flocking in droves once more.
   
In a rebound that began at the end of 2016, Paris saw a record 2.6 million foreign arrivals in the first four months of this year — a 19 percent increase over the same period in 2016.
   
Top Moulin Rouge official Jean-Victor Clerico shakes his head as he looks back at the “black year” of 2016, when the cavernous hall was only three-quarters full on an average night.
 
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   After the Louvre, Champs-Elysées and Notre-Dame, nervy Paris tourists should keep perspective
Photo: AFP   
 
The world's most famous cabaret enjoyed a brief uptick but a series of events — street protests against labour reforms, foul weather, and a truck rampage in the southern city of Nice that claimed 86 lives — combined “to completely wipe out the recovery,”  said.
 
Since then terror attacks have become more frequent and widespread, hitting not just France but also Belgium, Britain and Germany sparking “a kind of fatalism”, said Josette Sicsic, head of Touriscopie, a firm that tracks tourist behaviour.
   
As 68-year-old American tourist Rinkie Pollack put it: “If it's your time, it's your time.”
   
Visiting from San Diego, California, the retiree said: “There's nowhere in the world where you're safe.”
 
'The world has changed'
 
Terror attacks “are affecting tourism for shorter and shorter periods”, Sicsic said, adding that people come to Paris telling themselves: “You have to be vigilant, because everyone is aware that the world has changed.”
   
The tourism ministry expects a five to six percent increase in overall arrivals to France this year, for a new record of 89 million visitors in 2017.
   
The lowest point for Paris came at the end of March 2016 — four and a half months after the Paris attacks, when Islamic State group jihadists targeted ordinary people enjoying an evening out at trendy eateries, a concert hall and the national stadium.
 
Photo: AFP
 
The shootings and bombings left 130 people dead and prompted the government to impose a state of emergency — which is still in effect after being renewed several times.
  
Some 14.5 million people visited the capital overall in 2016, a drop of five percent from the previous year.
   
Last year's tourist numbers were also affected by social unrest as hundreds of thousands took to the streets around France in sometimes violent protests against labour reforms.
   
In addition, a relentless series of robberies targeting Asians, especially Chinese, since 2013 have been a deterrent.
   
But it is Chinese tourists, as well as Americans, who are expected to set new records this year.
   
Clerico said “the fear dissipated a little” as attacks mounted in other European countries.
   
Twin suicide attacks in Brussels in March 2016 claimed 32 lives, while December of that year saw a truck ramming at a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12.
   
The latest vehicle incident was in London in March, when a man ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing five.
   
Nicolas Lefebvre, director of the Paris Tourism Office, like Sicsic and Clerico, said he thought people were becoming inured to terrorism.
   
“The constant repetition of these events — there have been several in a few months, thankfully less deadly — has made them sort of part of the landscape, and it no longer stops people from imagining, thinking about, and organising a trip to Europe, and to Paris in particular,” he said.
 
'Seize the moment'
 
Sicsic said potential tourists have concluded that they “can be hit by a terrorist act in their country of origin or when travelling (so) you can't keep boycotting Paris, London and so on”.
   
Enjoying a salad on the terrace of a Champs-Elysees restaurant, 25-year-old Alexa Derby said she and her family have “felt pretty safe the whole time we've been here.”
   
Derby, who works as a snorkel boat deckhand in Hawaii, added: “I mean it (terrorism) is definitely on your mind, but what are you going to do? Hide your whole life and not travel?”
   
South African housewife Susan Sobel, 64, visiting Paris for the second time since 2007, said: “You have to seize the moment and hopefully you'll be safe.”
   
However, Britons are contributing less to the recovery because of a factor that has nothing to do with terrorism: their vote to leave the European Union has dragged down the pound, making travel to the Continent more expensive.

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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