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TOURISM

How will tourism in France, Spain and Italy survive the virus?

Tourism is a key component in the European economy, accounting for 10 percent of all activity but it now faces its greatest challenge - how to survive the coronavirus pandemic?

How will tourism in France, Spain and Italy survive the virus?
A closed beach in Calviá on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Photos: AFP

International tourist arrivals could plunge by 60 to 80 percent in 2020 owing to the coronavirus, the World Tourism Organization warned Thursday, meaning the local business is going to be essential.

Here are three immediate questions for the industry.

France is the world's leading destination for holiday travel but President Emmanuel Macron warned earlier this week it was “too soon to say if we can take vacations” this year.

EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton believes “some zones will be open to tourists, but not others,” depending on the health situation.

Many people appear to be planning local holidays as international travel looks set to be off the agenda for months to come.

“To start with, it will be a question of ultra-proximity,” French junior minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said.

In Britain, “holiday bookings for this summer have reduced drastically as people wait to see how the situation develops both in the UK and overseas,” said a spokesperson for the ABTA travel association.

“There is clearly considerable pent up demand for holidays and when lockdown conditions are lifted, people will have a renewed appetite for travel to see friends and family, and for taking a well-deserved holiday,” the sector specialist added.

Popular destinations have begun to announce recovery plans “but the right health conditions have to be in place first, and there will need to be changes in some of the structures of travel and tourism to allow for social distancing,” the ABTA representative added.

Tourists must above all feel their health is not at risk if the industry is to save a summer season looking to be be one of the worst on record.

Ali Abdelhafidh, at Nice's Castel Plage in southern France (pictured below in peak tourist season), said half in jest that he would “quit the business” if his clients had to wear masks and gloves.

The town of Gandia, southeastern Spain, plans to hire beach watchers and possibly ban kids at certain hours to ensure people maintain a minimum distance from each other.

Restaurant patios are likely to be enlarged where possible and menus sent to cell phones instead of being passed from hand to hand.

Clients are also likely to have their temperatures checked and be required to have masks and gloves to minimise the risk of infection.

But while meant to reassure, such measures could prove counter-productive.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini asked the pointed question — “What kind of tourism is it when for example only a few people can eat together in a restaurant or pizzeria?”

In general, European tourism specialists want clear and coherent guidelines so that everybody understands what is required.

Breton said the European Union was working on harmonised rules for welcoming tourists that could be unveiled “in the coming days.”

Johan Vincent, researching how economic crises have impacted tourism, notes that “tourism has always bounced back because those concerned have adapted to the crises they have faced.”

The price tag is likely to be huge however, given that a country like Spain, the number two destination worldwide, forecasts a 64 percent drop in tourist arrivals this year.

Exceltur, which groups leaders from 28 Spanish airlines, hotels, tourist agencies and related companies, expects the sector to lose up to 60 percent of its annual sales.

Breton wants “a Marshall Plan for tourism,” similar to the one that helped Europe recover from World War II.

He estimates it would need one to €2 trillion ($1.08-2.16 trillion).

A potential obstacle to joint action is that tourism is crucial for some, but not all EU members, in particular countries such as France, Greece, Italy and Spain but also some of the smaller states such as Croatia.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting France

Ever wondered how to avoid paying exorbitant roaming fees when travelling in France? There are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by a big bill.

How to avoid huge 'roaming' phone bills while visiting France

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country than you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but non-Europeans need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with “Three” for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in France. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in France.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

Orange Holiday

This is one of France’s largest and most reputable telephone companies. The “Orange Holiday” SIM card exists specifically for tourists. At €39.99, you will get a SIM card that will enable you to make and receive calls and texts from a French phone number. You will have unlimited calls and texts within Europe, as well as two hours of calls and 1000 texts outside of Europe (for messaging people at home, for example). You will also have access to 30GB of data in Europe. 

The initial plan is valid for 14 days, and begins as soon as you begin calling, texting, or surfing the web. In order to get this SIM card, you can go into any Orange store and request it. Some supermarkets and airport kiosks might also carry this SIM card.

SFR

SFR is another well-known French phone company. Their pre-paid SIM card is called “La Carte,” and they offer several different options based on how much internet, calling, and texting you want access to. The basic plan is for 30 days and starts at €9.99 a month, which includes a €10 credit. Once the card is in your cellphone, you can add on a top-up option as needed.

You can buy this SIM card either online or in an SFR store. 

La Poste Mobile

This is the French phone company that operates in conjunction to the post office. What is especially convenient about this SIM card is that you should be able to get it at any post office in France. Plans range from €5 to €30 based on the number of days and the amount of calling, texting, and internet you are looking for. 

Bouygues Telecom

Finally, Bouygues Telecom also has some offers for prepaid SIM cards. Their plan, the “My European SIM” is especially made for tourists. It costs €39.90 and allows you unlimited calling and texting in France and Europe. The plan offers 20Gb of data. You can plan ahead for your trip by ordering this card online, but you can only activate it once you arrive in France.

The card actually comes along with a tourist guide (offered in 10 languages) and a map of Paris Metro.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in France, it is important to be sure you are buying a pre-paid SIM, rather than accidentally signing up for a monthly plan.

Some mobile phone carriers offer very affordable monthly plans, which might look appealing to tourists. However, these plans will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, and many involve complex processes, including sending a registered cancellation letter (in French), in order to cancel the plan.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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