What’s the future for France’s tourist guides with international travel crippled?

With international tourism shattered by Covid-19, French tour guides try to rethink their profession in a world where the future of travel is all but certain.

What's the future for France's tourist guides with international travel crippled?
Paris has seen its tourism business shattered by the pandemic. Photo: AFP

France's tourism industry has suffered big losses since Covid-19 saw countries step up travel restrictions in March to stem the spread of the pandemic across their territories.

While France has reopened borders to European countries, international tourism remains limited and this summer saw numbers plunge compared to previous years. 

“Over the whole summer, we ran two tours whereas in a normal summer we would quite often be doing two a day,” Heidi Evans, a tour guide in Paris told The Local.

Tour guides like Heidi have struggled to cope since the beginning of the pandemic. Her Women of Paris Walks draw English-speaking customers, most of whom have been hindered from coming to Paris because of the pandemic. 

“For the most part, my bests clients are American, British and some European… These people were obviously not travelling this year,” Heidi said.

With the United States featuring on the EU's risk list and Americans banned from entering France unless they provide a negative Covid-19 test, France – and especially Paris – lost a big chunk of its usual tourists this year.

The capital lost 14 million tourists the first six months of the year, according to Valerie Pécresse, the president of the greater Paris region Ile-de-France.

READ ALSO: How Paris tourism has been 'shattered' by the pandemic

Paris has lost millions of tourists since the pandemic. Photo: AFP

French tourism 'not enough'

But even in regions that a surge in visitors thanks to French staycationers, tour guides did not get their part of the share.

“Personally, I used to work with 90 percent of foreigners, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders..,” said Chloé Savart, a tour guide in Giverny, a favourite spot for both international and French tourists and in the Normandy region, northwest in France.

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“I tried to work more locally, but local and even national tourism does not compensate for the losses,” she told The Local.

“I have not even reached five percent of my annual turnover in terms of profits.”

Chloé found herself in dire straits, especially seeing as her partner also is a tour guide in the company that they created together, Normandy Experience.

She got a job at a restaurant where she worked two months. Now she works as a stand-in English teacher at a university in the region.

In Paris, Heidi tried to compensate for the losses by working as an English teacher.

“I have always picked up a bit more online English teaching during the winter months when it’s a bit quieter, but normally I would not do that in the summer,” she said.

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A tour guide with a group in Paris. Photo: AFP

'Not enough' help from the government

According to the French Tourism Secretary of State, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, tourism generates €180 billion on average per year. Of these, €60 billion come from international tourism.

“The immediate impact of the pandemic is of at least, €30 to €40 billion,” Lemoyne told the Journal du Dimanche last August.

To help its reeling economy, France quickly ramped up economic schemes to help businesses cope with their losses caused by the strict, nationwide lockdown.

The government set up a “solidarity fund” to help small business owners and self-employed who suffered from the months of economic standstill, and later extended this fund to last all through 2020 for the restauration and tourism sectors, which where the ones the hardest hit by the pandemic.

READ ALSO: The battle to save the livelihoods of the self-employed

But even with the government funding, both tour guides said they were having to adapt “big time.”

“The government funding is only OK when supplemented with the money that I get from teaching,” Heidi said.

She said the two income sources combined could last her until December.

“But the question is, what the hell do I do then?”

Chloé said the fund had been of “big help” to her and her partner, but that it did not compensate for their economic losses.

“It allows us to keep our heads above the water, but it barely covers the expenses of his [her partner's] business,” she said.

Parisian tour guides protest against their job insecurity in July. Photo: AFP

Imagining the future

Despite all of these obstacles, Chloé said she was not giving up on her future as a tour guide. The most difficult part of the situation was not being able to do what she loves the most.

“My job is my passion, so this is frustrating and tiring, mentally and morally,” she said.

For Parisian-based Heidi, the uncertainty is what makes the situation complicated to deal with.

“In order to sustain myself I am going to need to look for a proper job, but, if I do find work somewhere else, will I then be able to do tours if we have a return to normality next summer?,” she said.

In order to compensate with the loss of clients, both tour guides developed new ways of doing their jobs.

“We are still working on it but the idea is to turn one of the tours into a virtual experience,” said Heidi.

Several companies have already gone online, but the results are mixed, she said.

READ ALSO: Five ways to take a virtual trip around France

While online tours opened access to a worldwide market, Heidi said it was difficult to make them popular enough for people to want to spend their money on.

In Normandy, Chloé and her partner decided to work more on a local level and offered bike tours and food tours in the summer.

“We tried to work towards a more intimate, playful tourism but it was not well received because people were afraid of being in crowded place,” she said.

“We can’t blame them, seeing as no one knows where [the pandemic] is headed.”

By Gwendoline Gaudicheau

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France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.