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Travel alerts: What do 'risk' warnings about France really mean?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected] • 31 Mar, 2023 Updated Fri 31 Mar 2023 09:46 CEST
Travel alerts: What do 'risk' warnings about France really mean?
A protestor throws a beer can towards security forces during a demonstration in Paris. Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

You've probably seen a 'risk' warning about travel to France during one of the country's not infrequent periods of strikes or protests - but what do these warnings actually mean? The Local asked a professional risk and crisis management adviser how seriously we should take travel alerts.

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France has been in the grip of periodic strikes since January as unions battle pension reform, and in recent days violence has flared close to the routes of demos in Paris, Bordeaux and Rennes.

Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates

Despite this, life has continued as normal in France, so many people were bemused and amused to see travel warnings suggesting that people avoid the country.

 

Many pointed to this clip of French people calmly continuing to enjoy their apéro while a fire burns in the street as a more appropriate response to what are, after all, a few scattered incidents in a handful of French cities.

 

But how are these warnings created, who issues them and what do they mean to the average traveller?

The Local spoke to Alexandra Delgado, a global risk and crisis management adviser, who runs the Terrain-Neuf agency which provides customised solutions for travel risk management.

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She said: "I totally understand why a Paris native might burst out laughing at the idea that you should avoid the city, but a lot depends on the traveller's personal experiences - someone who lives in Geneva, for example, might never have even seen a burning tyre - as well as their reasons for travel and whether they are travelling for work.

"A risk management assessment will include all types of risk, from looking at whether public transport is safe and reliable, how easy it is to access medical care and specific risks from events with large crowds and demos, which we know can be risky as they can quickly turn.

"As an industry, risk management became a really hot topic during Covid, when for example you had situations like a company having to deal with the fact that its CEO was stuck on a cruise liner and they weren't getting off for six week."

Most travel warnings are issued by companies and are aimed at business travellers - whose employers have a legal liability if something goes wrong.

Alex said: "Big companies or international organisations like the UN have in-house teams who will asses the risk of all sorts of travel - from employees coming for a meeting at the OECD in Paris, to trips to Afghanistan.

"They will use data including traditional media, social media like TikTok or Snapchat, any existing data or press releases and calling a local operative on the ground, if they have one, to asses the risks of the trip and issue advice or a warning - typically you would shadow a team in the industry for several years in order to learn how to make judgements on different types of data.

"Smaller companies will usually outsource to an independent contractor to either produce risk assessments or sometimes - if they don't want to pay for individual assessments - they will just sign up for a feed that sends alerts on anything related to that country.

"For the employers there is - one would hope - a moral responsibility for their staff but certainly a legal and financial one. For example, if an employee on a business trip wanders down the wrong street where windows are being smashed and gets a shard of glass in their eye, someone will end up paying for that - and it almost certainly won't be the person who smashed the window."

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Most travel warnings are sent by large companies to employees - and for obvious financial reasons they tend to err on the side of caution. But the other groups that regularly send warnings are governments, via Embassies, to their citizens.

Governments tend to have their own in-house experts and issue various types of warnings to their citizens - from advice to expats to evacuate in extreme cases like the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, to travel advisories to tourists on issues like social unrest or strikes.

And it's not uncommon for Embassies of different countries to offer different assessments of the same country.

Alex said: "Embassies tend to be writing to their audience - addressing the typical type of traveller. So for example the US Embassy might be thinking of John and Shirley from the Midwest, making their first trip to Europe who would be upset if they saw a burning pile of trash in Paris.

"Other Embassies might expect their citizens to be a little more worldly and knowledgeable if they were travelling from a closer country like the UK."

So, how risky is a trip to a French city when there are protests on?

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Alex, who lives in eastern France, close to the Swiss border, says: "I'm planning a trip to Paris soon and I'm not at all worried - I used to live in Paris and it's a city I know well.

"The main piece of advice I would give to people is to look up demo routes in advance. These are published a few days in advance - many English-language media publish them - and just take five minutes out of your day to look up the planned route of a march so that you can stay clear of that area of the city, because demos are unpredictable and can be dangerous.

"The other thing I would do is check in advance any train or airport connections that might be disrupted because of a strike."

The Local publishes advance information on planned strikes and demos - you can find the latest in our strike section HERE

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