Travelers to Paris should be prepared for trash piles and protests

Travelers to Paris should be prepared for trash piles and protests

The guests who checked in to Rosewood’s Hotel de Crillon this week were likely visiting Paris for all the city’s enduring draws: The food, the romance, the museums, the fashion. But on Thursday evening, their $2,450-per-night rooms became the doorstep of a massive protest in the adjacent Place de la Concorde filled with thousands of citizens speaking out against the government’s use of a constitutional provision to pass its retirement bill, which failed to gather a majority of representatives in France’s lower house of parliament. 

In response to the reforms planned by President Emmanuel Macron, garbage collectors have been on strike since March 6. Piles of trash are stacking up around Paris, as garbage collectors protest the raising of their industry’s retirement age from 57 to 59. The trash collectors’ walkout is set to run at least through March 20, but could run longer. 

Until this year, last time that protests on this scale affected the city was in late 2018 and early 2019, when Yellow Vests clashed with government forces, sometimes violently, in cities throughout France. Tourism took a clear hit; local transit and hotel companies such as Accor SA saw shares dip, and tourist sites such as the Louvre and Orsay museums shut down for safety.

Thus far, the protests in Paris remain unthreatening to tourists. There’s no indication that travelers should consider cancelling their plans, and the US State Advisory remains at a standard Level 2—the same as virtually every popular tourism destination in Europe or in the Caribbean. There are some signs of rising tensions, however. Police used water cannons on Thursday to disperse the protestors at the Place de la Concorde, which is just across a bridge from France National Assembly.

There’s a lot at stake. In 2022, France’s international tourism spending reached €50 billion ($53.4 billion), surpassing pre-pandemic levels by €1.2 billion, and representing 10% of France’s GDP. France also remains on track to regain its pre-pandemic title as the most-visited country in the world by 2025, according to Global Data. National carrier Air France is also boosting its service to pre-pandemic levels this summer ahead of an anticipated surge in demand and the return of Chinese travelers.

Difficulty Getting Around

But that doesn’t mean that visitors will find Paris unaffected. Some sidewalks in the city have become impassable, full of garbage bags leaking rotting food and spilling broken bottles onto the pavement.

Although France’s interior minister has promised to requisition trash collectors to start to dig out the backlog, there wasn’t any evidence yet that many were back on the job in those neighborhoods affected by the strike. Meanwhile, the arrival of Americans on spring break and other international travelers has led to visitors spreading photos, posts and comments about the trash piles around Paris.

How to Plan Ahead

Those piles could disappear rapidly if collectors are, indeed, forced back onto the job. For residents and visitors, there’s not much to do about that—except perhaps to hold your nose. But there are a few precautions that travelers can take to ensure that their trips are otherwise unaffected by the political unrest.

In anticipation of possible transit strikes, which took place amid the 2018 and 2019 protests, it could be prudent to schedule an airport transfer via your hotel. Not only will you circumvent any unplanned changes to public transit service; the hotel will be responsible for guaranteeing your service or communicating clearly about any anticipated challenges should taxi drivers suddenly join the trash collectors. 

Before leaving on a romantic stroll of the city, check in with the front desk or concierge; they are likely to know where and when protests are planned, so you’re not inadvertently swept into a demonstration. Note that the next major day of strikes and protests is scheduled for March 23.

Gail Boisclair, founder of furnished rentals company PerfectlyParis has been telling her clients to avoid the areas around Republique and Bastille on Saturdays because of the demonstrations, but says strikes come with the territory. “Everyone knows the French strike, and if you come to France, you might get a strike,” she notes. “But it’s not always with our garbage.” Boisclair says she saw trash piled up high around the 9th and 17th arrondissements. 

Lindsey Tramuta, journalist and author of The New Parisienne, recommends for visitors to download the app Citymapper. “It’s great to use for knowing if public transport is disrupted and which routes in particular, or in the case of big demonstrations, if certain stations will be closed for safety,” she tells Bloomberg. For those who don’t speak French, she also advises keeping an eye on English language media such as France24 and The Local France for up-to-date information on strikes.

And while it may seem obvious, check social media of destinations like museums to make sure they’re open. You don’t want to trek across a city only to find out that museum workers are also on strike. The Paris Tourism Office’s Twitter (@ParisJeTaime) is also a good resource on closures, as well as that from local guide  @paris_by_elodie.

But most importantly, tourists should exercise patience and budget extra time to get around. Metro service, rail schedules and even airport operations have all seen on-and-off disruption during recent protests.

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