The Frenchest story ever? Eiffel Tower closes as staff go on strike

The Eiffel Tower closed to the public on Wednesday afternoon as staff went on strike over how to organise tourists visits to the monument.

Staff from the Eiffel Tower operating company, SETE, are protesting how visits to the iconic Parisian monument are organised, complaining of the sometimes “monstrous” queues that form for the popular tourist attraction.

Negotiations to avoid a strike that would halt public visits to the Tower were suspended on Wednesday, according to a union source contacted by AFP. A general meeting will be held in the late afternoon to decide on the length of the strike.

Since early July the monument has set aside half of daily tickets for people who buy them in advance on the internet and choose a scheduled time for their visit. Previously just 20 percent of tickets could be booked ahead of time.

But the tower’s management has also decided to reserve specific elevators for each type of ticket holder, a move which “creates lines that are at times monstrous and often lopsided”, the CGT union said in a statement.

During off-peak times for pre-booked tickets, such as early afternoon or evening, the reserved elevator might be half empty – and yet there may be lines of up to three hours at the other elevator, which allows walk-in visitors.

High demand at the pre-booked elevator can cause backups that force people to wait long beyond their scheduled visit.

“Beyond the waste in terms of efficiency, and the unhappy visitors … employees’ patience has run out,” said the CGT’s Denis Vavassori.

He said that the problem was not that 50 percent of tickets are now pre-booked, but that all visitors should be allowed access to the same elevators in order to better manage the flows. He said management has refused to budge, however.

“We’re not talking about a failure … there’s just an adjustment that needs to be made,” Vavassori said.

Disappointed tourists milled about near the Tower’s base on Wednesday.

“This has to be the Frenchest story of them all,” one told FRANCE 24’s James André. “The Eiffel Tower is on strike.”

The tower, which welcomed more than six million visitors last year, has been hit by repeated strikes by its 300-strong staff in recent years over issues ranging from pick-pocketing to maintenance work.

SETE said that the last lift is scheduled for 4pm local time Wednesday. After that time, visitors will not be able to climb the stairs to the top but those who are already inside will be able to stay as long as they wish.

The Eiffel Tower is one of the most visited sites in the French capital, with 6.2 million visitors in 2017.

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