What travellers need to know about the Paris riots

Yellow Vest protests have occurred around the country, but have been concentrated in Paris, mostly on Saturdays.
Yellow Vest protests have occurred around the country, but have been concentrated in Paris, mostly on Saturdays.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (NYTIMES) - Incited by an impending rise in the gas tax and other economic issues, protesters in Paris, known as Yellow Vests for the neon yellow road workers' safety vests they wear, have been rioting, looting and setting cars on fire for the past three Saturdays.

Here's what travellers to Paris can expect as a result of the turmoil, and some resources for travel advice and protection.

1. What areas have been affected?

Yellow Vest protests have occurred around the country, but have been concentrated in Paris, mostly on Saturdays.

Though protest areas may shift, they have focused on the Champs-Élysées, the Élysée Palace and other areas in the First, Eighth, 16th and 17th arrondissements.

At least 13 metro stations were closed before the protests last Saturday. Some cultural institutions near the demonstrations were closed preemptively on Saturday, including the Arc de Triomphe and the Grand Palais, while others, like the Musée de l'Orangerie, closed some entrances.

For now, the museums, shops and metros that were affected have all reopened, but protests, possibly violent ones, could continue on future Saturdays and force the shutdown of transportation, institutions and services.

Travellers can follow the Prefecture de Police on Twitter and the website of the public transportation system known as the RATP for real-time warnings and travel restrictions (in French only).


2. What is the Singapore government's advice to travellers?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised Singaporeans who are either travelling to or already in France to stay away from large gatherings.

"Singaporeans who are either travelling to or already in France are advised to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, monitor local media for developments and heed the instructions of the local authorities," said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a travel notice on Saturday (Dec 1).

"As public transport may also be disrupted as a result of the demonstrations, do allow for additional travel time especially around the protest areas," the MFA said.

Singaporeans are encouraged to eRegister with the MFA at https://eregister.mfa.gov.sg to enable the ministry to reach them should the need arise.

They are also advised to purchase comprehensive travel and medical insurance and be familiar with the terms and coverage. Those in need of consular assistance may contact the Singapore Embassy in Paris or the MFA Duty Office.

3. What does the US strong government say?

The Department of State's travel warning on France remains unchanged since Jan 10, 2018. It stands at Level 2 (on a scale of 1 to 4), meaning exercise increased caution" because of terrorism.

The US embassy in Paris issued its own demonstration alert, warning of several protest locations, and advised avoiding turbulent areas and keeping a low profile. It also included a number of French media sites published in English where travellers can monitor the news.

"We strongly encourage US citizens who are in, or plan to travel to, France to enrol in the Smart Traveller Enrolment Programme at step.state.gov to receive important emergency information, and follow us on twitter @travelgov and Facebook for additional updates," Ms Marlo Cross-Durrant, a spokeswoman for the State Department, wrote in an e-mail.

Known as STEP, the Smart Traveller Enrolment Programme asks Americans to register their travel plans in the free programme.

In the case of emergency, including a natural disaster or civil unrest, the United States embassy in that country will get in touch directly with travel advice.

4. Are there other sources for emergency notifications?

Many security experts also advise checking the travel advice published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Britain.

Its Dec 3 update on France notes: "Protests against fuel prices continue across France, leading to blocked roads and motorways in some areas."

For travellers seeking direct advisory service, the security firm Incident Management Group offers updates to subscribers of its app FoneTrac (US$15, or S$20.50, for individuals for a month, no minimum term).

Its updates on the Yellow Vest protests on Dec 3 report roadblocks in the South of France and that demonstrations at Total fuel depots caused 75 stations to run out of gas, which was also reported by Reuters.

IMG advises avoiding large gatherings and overt signs of wealth, in stores, vehicles and upscale neighbourhoods, as these have been targets of some protesters.

5. Will travel insurance help in the case of riots?

"The quick answer for trip cancellation is typically, no," said Mr Stan Sandberg, the co-founder of TravelInsurance.com, which compares and sells policies.

"Civil unrest is typically spelled out as an exclusion in most plans."

However, travellers in France who have already purchased travel insurance or those considering it for a future trip may find that their policy includes covering missed connections or travel delays.

So, if a traveller is unable to get to an airport as planned because of subway or road closures related to the protests, then the policy holder may be able to file a claim for reimbursement.

Another option for nervous travellers is a travel insurance upgrade known as "cancel for any reason".

This allows travellers to cancel their trip up until about two or three days before departure without explaining why.

Most policies have to be purchased within a few days or a few weeks of initially buying the trip.

"Cancel for any reason can only be used prior to departure," said Ms Jenna Hummer, a spokeswoman for Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison website.

It's also expensive. "It adds about 40 per cent to a policy, which is based on trip cost," and reimburses 75 per cent, generally, she added.

But since insurance is regulated by states, some do not allow the provision, including New York, though it is available to residents in Connecticut and New Jersey.

6. How have travel providers reacted?

The tour company Eurobound said its business has been robust despite the unrest and hoteliers have said it's business as usual in France.

In a statement, Marriott International wrote, "Due to demonstrations in the local area our hotels are open, but operating with enhanced security."

A spokeswoman for Hilton Hotels & Resorts said it, too, is "closely monitoring events in Paris, and none of our hotels have experienced major disruptions to date. The safety and security of our guests and team members is our priority, and we urge guests to check local travel advice before they travel. Any individual booking enquiries should be directed to the hotel in question."