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HEALTH

‘Whole season a write-off’ – What next for France’s ski resorts?

Ski resorts in France are bracing themselves for the complete write-off of the 2020/21 season after the tourism minister said it was "highly unlikely" that ski lifts would be allowed to reopen at all in February. So what next for the €12 billion sector?

'Whole season a write-off' - What next for France's ski resorts?
Ski lifts will not be reopening in France just yet. Photo: AFP

What is the situation?

At the start of the ski season, France was under lockdown so nobody was travelling anywhere, but this was lifted on December 15th and people were once again allowed to travel around the country.

However, many restrictions stayed in place after December 15th and all bars, restaurants and cafés remained closed. There was also a further restriction specific to ski resorts – ski lifts had to remain closed.

This largely ruled out skiing for most people, although cross country skiing and other winter sports that do not require mechanical infrastructure are still allowed.

The Christmas holidays – usually a peak time for ski resorts – saw around 20-30 percent occupancy, compared to 95 percent in a normal year, although people were allowed to take holidays in mountain villages, go hiking and generally enjoy a change of scene after two months of lockdown.

What's new?

With Christmas a washout, the ski industry then pinned its hopes on the February school holidays, which in France run from February 6th to 22nd. 

The government's health briefing on January 14th did not contain any update on ski lifts, but the industry was promised a decision by the end of January.

Then on Wednesday came the hammer blow. Speaking after a Defence Council meeting that brought together top ministers and President Emmanuel Macron, Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said: “A reopening in the middle or end of February is highly unlikely. We are looking at a complete write-off for the season.”

As with Christmas, the ban extends only to mechanical ski lifts, so people who had booked a February mountain holiday for other activities can still go, provided another lockdown is not imposed before then.

So what now?

Lemoyne and Prime Minister Jean Castex will be meeting with industry representatives over the next few days in order to finalise the economic help packages that will be on offer for the devastated sector.

A detailed announcement on what financial aid will be available for people whose livelihoods are affected by the ban is expected early next week.

Lemoyne said: “The snow cannons are not going to be working, so the cannons of compensation must be there.”

What about skiing in other countries?

France's neighbours have been less strict with their resorts, so it is still possible to ski in Switzerland and Austria. However, Switzerland is set to impose testing on some arrivals from France.

European leaders have also been in talks about developing a common policy on ski resorts, so there may be further restrictions to come.

What has the reaction been?

The ski industry in France represents €12 billion in annual turnover and is directly responsible for 200,000 jobs and there is no doubt that this is a massive blow for the industry.

The group Collectif des entreprises de montagne (collective of mountain businesses) had been calling for a reopening of ski lifts from January 30th, saying having a complete saison blanche (written-off season) would lead to long-term consequences in loss of investment, the departure of big companies and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

However others have accepted that, while devastating, the closures are also necessary.

 

Covid case numbers are rising in France and the eastern Alpine areas are among those particularly badly hit, with local hospitals under severe pressure. 

Travel from the UK, usually a major market for French ski resorts, is strictly limited to essential journeys only with a testing and quarantine requirement as health officials try to contain the more contagious variant anglais of the virus.

From January 16th the whole of mainland France is under a 6pm to 6am curfew and there is increasing speculation that a third lockdown is on the way.

READ ALSO IN NUMBERS: Is France heading for a third lockdown and, if so, when?

 

 

 

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TRAVEL

Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

Ever seen those drivers who avoid the queues at toll booths and driving straight through? Here's how they do it.

Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

If you’re driving on French autoroutes one of the things you need to know is that they are not free – you will have to pay regular tolls, payable at toll booths known as péage.

Usually, drivers pick up a ticket from a booth at the start of their journey, then pay the required amount at a booth at the end of it – or when they move onto a different section of autoroute – based on the distance they have travelled.

But the toll booths themselves can be busy, especially during the summer, and long queues sometimes build up.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

This is where automated pay systems – known as télépéage – come in, especially for those who use the motorway network regularly.

As well as allowing you to pass straight through péages without stopping for payment, it’s also very useful for owners of right-hand drive vehicles, who may otherwise find that they’re sitting on the wrong side for easy and speedy payment.

Here’s how it works

Order your télépéage badge online

Click on the Bip&Go website here and follow the instructions to order a scannable personalised device (up to a maximum of two per account for private users). You will need to set up an account to arrange electronic payment of charges.

The website is available in English, French, German or Dutch.

You will need to supply bank details (IBAN number), address (for delivery), mobile phone number (to activate your account) and the vehicle’s registration details.

Your badge will be dispatched to your address within 48 hours from the opening of your online account. You can have the device sent to addresses outside France, but allow longer for it to arrive. 

If you’re in France, you can also pick up the device at one of Bip&Go’s stores, if you prefer – you will need need your bank details, proof of identity and a mobile phone.

Attach your badge 

Place your device on on the windscreen to the right of the rearview mirror. It is activated and ready to go. Then, simply, drive.

At the péage

All toll booths are equipped with the sensors that recognise that the vehicle is carrying the necessary device. At most, you will have to stop briefly for the device to be recognised and the barrier to lift.

You will also be able to drive through certain booth areas without stopping. These are indicated by an orange t symbol on the overhead signs. The maximum speed you can pass through these booths is 30kph.

Payments

Payments are processed automatically. You can monitor the amounts you have to pay on an app.

Do I need separate badges for motorway networks run by different companies?

No. The badge allows holders to travel on the entire French motorway network, no matter which company manages the motorway, and you can also use it to cross a number of toll structures in France such as the Millau Viaduct, the Tancarville Bridge or the Normandie Bridge, and pay to park in more than 450 car parks. 

Is it only valid in France?

No, with certain packages, you can also as easily travel on motorways in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and use a number of compatible car parks. You can even use them on Italian ferries.

Okay, but how much does it cost?

Subscriptions to the Bip&Go service depend on what type of service you want. A fixed price rolling subscription is €16 a year – plus toll charges – but assumes you’re a regular user of French motorways. 

A pay-as-you-go subscription is €1.70 for every month the badge is in use – plus toll charges – and carries a €10 additional fee if the badge is not used in a 12-month period.

How much are the toll charges?

They depend on the road you’re on, how far you travel along it, and the vehicle you’re driving.

Heading from Toulouse to Biarritz along the A64 will cost a total €23 in fees for a private car and if you’re driving all the way from Calais down to the Mediterranean coast expect to pay around €70 once you add up the various tolls along the way.

You can find out tariffs for autoroutes on the website of France’s official autoroute body AFSA – where you can also calculate the cost of your journey – including fuel.

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