Paris versus the provinces: How France’s tourist industry has changed

With the virtual collapse of international travel during the Covid-19 pandemic, France's tourist industry has been badly hit. But the effects are not being felt equally across the country, with many places actually seeing more tourists than usual.

Paris versus the provinces: How France's tourist industry has changed
Photo: AFP

Tourism makes up around 10 percent of the French economy, so international travel restrictions have seen losses of billions of euros in France.

“The immediate impact of the pandemic is at least €30 to €40 billion,” France's tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told the Journal du Dimanche in August.

However things are far from black and white and while Paris was noticeably emptier than usual this summer, other French regions were actually busier than normal.

So how did Covid-19 impact France's tourism industry and will the changes become permanent? Here are some of the emerging trends.

Heavily dependent on international tourism, Paris was badly hit by travel restrictions. Photo: AFP

Trend one: Paris was the big loser

The streets of the French capital were quieter than usual this summer. 

Not only did the capital lose almost all of its long-haul tourists – visitors from the US and China are usually well represented – French people also seem to have chosen other destinations than Paris for their holidays. 

Like Marie, 38, a Paris-based primary school teacher, who usually spends the summer in the capital with her family and her husband's family, who come and visit from the south of France.

“This year, we decided to go and visit them instead,” she told The Local. 

They packed their bags and headed to the Auvergne region (south-central France) and Toulon, on the south-east coast near Marseille. 

READ ALSO: Why some French resorts are busier than ever despite travel bans and quarantines 

And this summer's lack of visitors has had a crushing impact both on the sector and on the capital at large. 

In total, Paris lost €14 million the first six months of the year compared to last year, according to Valerie Pecresse, the president of the greater Paris Île-de-France region.

“It is with great sadness that we have seen the pandemic shatter an extremely dynamic and flourishing sector,” she said.

Although 80 percent of French hotels had reopened in mid-August, only 47 percent of those in Paris were able to welcome visitors again, according to the tourism report premier bilan touristique de la saison touristique estivale.

Most of the Parisian luxury hotels also remained closed during the summer and waited until September to reopen, due to the absence of their biggest-spending clients (who generally come from the USA, Asia and the Middle-East).

“Parisian luxury hotels were aiming to re-open at the beginning of July, but there are no reservations,” François Delahaye, operations manager of the Dorchester Collection (which also manages the Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice hotels in Paris) told Le Figaro in June.

In order to make up for lost revenue, some of hotels had to close their gourmet restaurants. That was the case for Sylvestre Wahid's two-star restaurant at the Thoumieux hotel or the two-star Abeille restaurant of the Shangri-La hotel. 

The winners: the provinces

But if Paris seems dependent on foreigners, where were the French tourists who were asked by the government to do bleu blanc rouge tourism (ie holiday within France)?

“I wanted to stay out of Paris because it felt less healthy than the provinces,” Alexia, 23, told The Local.

The French coastal resorts were among the most popular destinations, particularly the northern coast along the Channel, which, according to the Banque des Territoires, registered higher visitor numbers than in August 2019. 

“The Cotentin Peninsula [in Normandy] responds to the French people's current needs: holidays close to home and in the great outdoors,” vice-president of the Normandy region David Margueritte told France Bleu

Cotentin and its surrounding areas recorded an 18 per cent rise in reservations compared to 2019.

Lucie, a mother of one, decided to visit a small town in Brittany for the first time this summer. “We chose to visit Pénestin because it was in a green zone and it felt the safest. We felt like we were getting a holiday from Covid,” she told The Local.

Outdoor attractions were also popular, the 900km cycle track Loire à vélo (The Loire by bicycle) saw 15 percent more bikes than the summer of 2019, according to the latest numbers. 

Outdoor holidays proved the most popular. Photo: AFP

Changing tourism habits

And it seems that some people are thinking of making permanent changes to their travel habits.

According to a study by Charentes Tourisme, 50 percent of the respondents said they wanted to change their travelling habits while 75 percent said they now favour destinations they can reach by car.

The study also reports that hygiene measures in hotels, Airbnb and B&Bs are now a “decisive criteria” when it comes French people choosing a holiday destination. 

New requirements may draw attention to towns that are not usually visited by tourists during this period.

“We have discovered Lille this summer and I think we are ready to go back next year because there are so many things we didn't have time to see,” Paris resident Annaëlle told The Local.

Being used to crowded beaches, she decided to go north for her summer holiday, getting away from Covid and the several heat waves that struck France this summer.

According to a study by l’Observatoire du marché touristique français (observatory of the French tourist market), French people mostly looked for trips to the countryside this summer, and tended to avoid cultural and seaside trips. 

Helping a sector in distress  

While some regions have had a better summer than Paris, the French tourism industry is still suffering.

“For a three-star hotel, we need to rent a room for a minimum of €100. Today, we are offering the rooms half-price in order to cover the costs”, Wu Quin, director of the Hipotel hotel chain told France Info

The French government announced in May that it had established a €18 billion rescue plan for the sector.

It includes government-guaranteed loans and an access to a fond de solidarité (solidarity fund) that is set up until the end of 2020 and targeted at restaurants, hotels, and other travel-related businesses.  

“Any blow to tourism is obviously a blow to the heart of France,” said former PM Edouard Phillipe when announcing the measures.

According to the French Foreign Ministry, France is the world’s leading destination with 89.4 million foreign visitors in 2018. 

The sector also benefits from an extension of the temporary unemployment scheme that was put in place at the beginning of lockdown.

Restaurants, hotels and other tourist can continue to receive help from the state so they can keep their staff on furlough until December 2020.

“It's clear that tourism professionals need long-term support,” the secretary of state for tourism, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told France Info.


Though national tourism has helped some regions to stay afloat this summer, France, and especially its capital, are longing for its international visitors to return. 

By Gwendoline Gaudicheau

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What are the 26 French ‘unicorns’ hailed by the government?

France now has 26 'unicorns', something Emmanuel Macron's government sees as a major success. Here's what this means and how it affects France's future.

People dressed as unicorns attend a tech summit.
People dressed as unicorns attend a tech summit. France now counts 26 start-ups valued at more than $1 billion. (Photo by CARLOS COSTA / AFP)

In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron set what seemed like an ambitious objective: having 25 French start-ups valued at over $1 billion by 2025. 

These companies are colloquially referred to as “unicorns” or licornes in French. 

The target was very on-brand. Macron had sold himself at a youthful, ambitious and liberalising president keen to lead France towards modernity. 

To achieve this goal, the government lifted regulations; hired liaison officers to manage relations between tech entrepreneurs and government ministers; created a new kind of visa to allow entrepreneurs, innovators and investors to move to France; and launched an incubator scheme known as the French Tech Tremplin (“French Tech Trampoline”) to help underrepresented groups such as women, poor people and those in the countryside to launch tech start-ups. 

Just three years later, it appears these efforts have paid off. 

“They told us that it was impossible – that creating a start-up nation was just an act. But collectively we have got there three years ahead of schedule,” said Emmanuel Macron on Monday, sporting a Steve Jobs-style polo neck as he celebrated the fact that France now had 25 ‘unicorns’. 

On Tuesday, La French Tech, a body run by civil servants aimed at creating a healthy environment for start-ups in France heralded another success – a 26th licorne

The latest addition is a company called Spendesk – it runs a platform that allows small and medium sized businesses to manage spending, expenses, budgets, payment approvals and invoices through a single integrated platform. It is already used by thousands of clients. 

Spendesk recently raised a further $100 million, pushing its overall value past the $1 billion mark. It plans to employ a further 700 people in France. 

La French Tech couldn’t contain its joy. 

“We don’t ask ourselves what is going on, we know it: #FrenchTech is booming #26unicorns”, wrote the organisation in its Twitter account. 

La French Tech claims that beyond the 25 ‘unicorns’ valued at $1 billion or more, there are a further 20,000 tech start-ups in France and that half of French people use their services daily. The organisation says that this sector has already created 1 million jobs – and that this figure should double by 2050. 

“French tech is obviously about more than these unicorns, but I see them as an example, a model for the rest of the ecosytem,” said Macron on Tuesday. 

So who are the other unicorns leading the way? 


This start-up was created in 2016 and offers health insurance coverage for individuals and businesses. What differentiates it from standard health insurance providers, or mutuelles, is that it functions through an easy-to-use app. Individuals can send medical bills directly from their smartphone and be reimbursed almost immediately. Doctors can be reached through the app’s messaging and video call services. Employers can manage arrêts de travail the comings and goings of poorly staff directly through the interface. It is currently available in France, Belgium and Spain, counting 230,000 members. 


Ankorstore is an online marketplace aimed at supporting independent wholesalers – from florists to concept stores. It pitches itself as a platform to buy “authentic products and brands that e-commerce giants such as Amazon do not offer.” It is present in 23 European countries with offices in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.


This carpooling service has more than 100 million members across 22 countries. It connects drivers with people looking for a lift on a highly accessible app and website based platform. BlaBlaCar allows people to save money on transport and said that it saves 1.6 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2018 through ride-sharing – the platform has grown significantly since then. This company has also started running a bus service, BlaBlaBus. 

BlaBlaCar launched BlaBlaBus in 2019.

BlaBlaCar launched BlaBlaBus in 2019. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)


Backmarket is a website for buying used, unused or reconditioned electronic devices. The company sells everything from cameras, to laptops, to iPhones – at well below the market rate. Many of the products come with a warranty. The company is keen to emphasise its role in reducing electronic waste and carbon emissions involved in manufacturing new products.


This start-up has existed since 2012. It acts as a tool to allow website and app designers to monitor how their users behave while on their webpage/app. Contentsquare provides analytical information that can help to tailor websites to improve the digital experiences of users. 


Deezer is an online music streaming services similar to Spotify. It was founded in 2007 and counts 16 million active users. 


Doctolib is a platform that connects patients to medical professionals. Creating an account is free and allows you to book medical appointments, with filters such as the kind of care you want, the area of the medical practice and the languages spoken by the doctor. It runs via a user-friendly app and website and is available in France, Italy and Germany. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become the main way that French people have booked vaccination appointments. 


This company was founded by two engineers in 2014 and manufactures intralogistic robots. The technology is used in warehouses of retailers, supermarkets, e-commerce and industry. In essence, it is used to remove human labour from the supply chain. 


iad is a network where people can sign up to learn how to become an independent real estate agent – it also serves as a site where people can look for property to buy or rent. 14 percent of all properties sold in France in 2020 went through this platform according to one study. 


Ivalua is a tool used by organisations to manage spending and supplies. It operates largely though Artificial Intelligence and provides a wide range of functions designed to improve collaboration and decision-making. 


Ledger is a company that provides individuals and businesses an easy way to buy and sell cryptocurrencies and store these currency on USB-type hardware. If you get sick of that guy at work who never stops talking about Bitcoin, this is probably not one for you. 


This is a payment app that allows people with French bank accounts to send and receive money with other users, and is often used by friends to reimburse each other with small amounts for dinner, drinks, holidays etc. If you hold your savings in the app, you can benefit from a 0.6 percent interest rate. It also allows you to pay for things overseas without incurring fees. 


ManoMano is an online marketplace specialised in DIY and gardening equipment. It employs 800 people in 4 offices and operates across 6 European markets: France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK. It’s website sells products from more than 3,600 retail partners and stocks more than 10 million products. 


Patients can download this app after undergoing dental work. They can then use the secured system to send pictures of their teeth to their dentist (if the dentist is subscribed to the service). The start-up boasts that it can allow dentists and orthodontistes to carry out remote consultations and that the AI technology embedded in the app can automatically detect dental problems. 


Meero is a company that connects professional photographers to clients and vice versa. It organises one photo shoot every 25 seconds and has more than 30,000 customers around the world. 


Mirakl is a cloud-based e-commerce company that allows retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers to access a single online market place. The start-up aims to help other businesses scale-up their operations rapidly and describes its staff as “Mirakl workers” (as in the French ‘miracle’ pronounced me-rackluh). 


This start-up was founded in 1999 and is now Europe’s biggest cloud provider, offering both public and private information storage solutions. They also provide domain name registration, telecoms services and internet connection. 


Payfit is an automated payroll service that allows employers to save time dealing with spreadsheets and other systems. It is an intuitive bit of software already being used by 6,500 small and medium-sized businesses.


Qonto provides financial services to freelancers, self-employed people, small businesses, charities and new businesses. It provides solutions for managing expenses, accounting, invoices and payments. 


This company is based in Paris and helps global insurance companies to detect fraudulent insurance claims via artificial intelligence technology. 


This is a fantasy football game where users build and manage squads, trading, selling and buying players. It makes use of blockchain technology. French footballer Antoine Griezmann is a major investor. 

A tradable player card from Sorare.

A tradable player card from Sorare. Credit: Sorare


This is a financial and networking service for businesses and employees. It essentially is a bank card with an app that allows employers to issue anonymous surveys to employees, facilitate communication via a messaging service, organise collections and plan events. 

Vestiare Collective

This is an online marketplace for second-hand luxury fashion. Be aware that some items still cost thousands of euros, so they’re only ‘bargains’ in relative terms. 


This is an online and app-based service. Users can create an account for free to be alerted of upcoming sales of up to 70 percent on their favourite brands. It is available in eight European countries including the UK. 


Voodoo is a French mobile game developer and publisher. It provides help for video game developers to promote their work and councils them on the development process. In the past, Voodoo has come under fire for producing games that appear to be closely modelled on other games already on the market.