From bedbugs to bomb hoaxes, should you avoid visiting Paris? Local resident Caroline Harrap argues not.
There’s a joke in certain circles, that whenever something goes wrong in Paris, we blame Emily. I think you know of whom I speak.
Ever since the Netflix hit show ‘Emily in Paris’ portrayed the city as some sort of picture-perfect paradise, airbrushed to within an inch of its life, it’s been one thing after another. In short, Emily jinxed us.
From strikes and bedbugs to bomb hoaxes, travellers could be forgiven for wanting to give the city a miss just now. But would they be right to do so? I live in the city – here’s why I argue not.
Paris hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2023
First up this year, there were the strikes. To be fair, there are always strikes in Paris. But those in the spring, expressing understandable frustration at Macron’s controversial pension reform, were particularly full-on. While many people sympathised with the cause, it was less easy to be enthusiastic about streets swamped with rubbish. The chic surrounds of Savoir this was not.
Then, no sooner had all that died down, there was bedbug-gate – when the world succumbed to some sort of media-fuelled mass hysteria akin to a moral panic. It’s true, there were some bedbug outbreaks, and some schools and cinemas were closed for a bit. But as several experts pointed out, bedbugs are on the rise everywhere – not only in Paris – and now everyone here seems to have pretty much forgotten all about it.
Still, all that pales in comparison to the wider concerns over security. As well as the usual protests (and occasional riot) there is the ongoing threat of terrorism in Paris – with France’s national threat alert recently raised to the highest level possible.
And that’s not to mention the spate of bomb hoaxes in October. During that time, schools, airports and tourist sites such as the Louvre were all targeted – with the Palace of Versailles forced to close its doors several times in one week.
Are things in Paris as bad as they seem?
It’s true that Paris hasn’t had the best year. But in the same way that the capital will never live up to Emily’s beret-wearing, bouquet-buying utopia, it also hasn’t been anything like as bad as the media has made out.
For the most part, life has gone on pretty much as normal throughout all of this. As I write, the bin lorry is rumbling past, an argument is unfolding over a cyclist jumping a red light and a dog just pooped on the pavement.
Judging by the data so far, it seems that visitors haven’t been put off either – quashing rumours that American tourists had been cancelling their trips to the capital.
According to the city’s tourist office, now known as ‘Paris je t’aime’, the impact to date has been very limited, with the various indicators (flight bookings, searches etc.) remaining stable compared with last year’s results.
This may have been given a boost by the Rugby World Cup, which saw the number of international tourists increase by +15.6 per cent compared to the same period last year.
While it’s true that the wider economic and geopolitical situation has seen a slow-down in numbers for late 2023, this is reflective of global trends across the travel industry.
Tourist numbers are on the rise in Paris
Overall for this year, tourist numbers in Paris are expected to be up by +7.2 per cent when compared with 2022. And for the month of December, passenger flight arrivals from the USA are on track to increase by +4.6 per cent year on year.
“Paris remains one of our top destinations from the USA and Canada,” confirms Sonja Arnórsdóttir, chief commercial officer at PLAY Airlines, which connects Europe and North America via Iceland.
“We haven’t noticed any particular rise in cancellations or received any inquiries about bedbugs, delays or bomb scares. It looks like the city is as popular as ever with its USA and Canadian travellers.”
It appears to be a similar story for visitors from other parts of the world, too. For instance, Air France increased its overall capacity by 7 per cent for the third quarter of this year when compared to the same period in 2022. Also, Eurostar says it has seen a significant boost in bookings over the last few months.
“This year, on the London to Paris route, bookings from the UK market have now exceeded pre-pandemic levels, with passengers being able to choose between 13 and 16 daily returns,” says a representative from Eurostar.
“This is true despite the strike action, which of course limited our ability to run trains on certain days earlier in the year. However, we have still seen resilient customer demand, bouncing back quickly and resulting in very strong year-on-year growth.”
Why is now a good time to visit Paris?
Au contraire to all the negative press, as Paris prepares to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024, now is exactly the time to visit.
As well as improvements to the public transport system in readiness for the occasion, additional bike lanes have been installed, and even the Seine should eventually be swimmable if all goes to plan. And as the countdown gains momentum, much of the city will inevitably be spruced up for the occasion, too.
Unless you are travelling to Paris especially for the Olympics, it is highly advisable to plan your trip either before or after the event.
With rumours of apartment owners charging exorbitant nightly rates during the Games and the city expecting to be swamped by several-million excess visitors, we are braced for certain mayhem here next summer. Suffice to say, Paris in the springtime has never held more allure.
And, of course, that’s not to mention all the many other reasons to visit the French capital.
What’s new in Paris in 2024?
Aside from the ‘evergreen’ attractions of Paris, it has some enticing new additions as well. Among these are the recently opened house of Serge Gainsbourg, complete with its own museum, shop and cafe/bar, and the newly renovated National Maritime Museum.
Also, there are various happenings based on the recently released biopic ‘Napoleon’, directed by Ridley Scott, including a self-guided walk on the theme.
Looking ahead to 2024, there’s plenty to look forward to beyond the Olympics. There will be a major exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Impressionism. Just to the south of Paris, the Cité de la Gastronomie Paris-Rungis – promoting sustainable food and responsible gastronomy – will open to the public.
Even Notre-Dame is being mooted to open its doors again by the end of next year. Although the cathedral didn’t quite manage to meet Macron’s ambitious deadline of the Olympics, it should be set to welcome visitors again from 8 December 2024.
If anything, our greatest concern here in Paris continues to be overtourism, rather than too little of it.
With the city consistently ranked as one of the most popular destinations in the world, that doesn’t look likely to change any time soon, especially with certain TV shows continuing to pedal its mythical status. Just one more thing for which we can blame Emily…