ANALYSIS: How will the loss of British tourists affect France’s economy this summer?

A strict ban on non-essential travel from the UK has put paid to French tourism bosses' hopes of welcoming British tourists back to l'Hexagone in the weeks to come.

ANALYSIS: How will the loss of British tourists affect France's economy this summer?
Photo: Raymonf Roig/AFP

Since May 31st, only essential travel from the UK to France has been allowed over fears of the newly-renamed Delta variant of Covid first discovered in India.

At present there is no end-date to these restrictions and everything depends on the health situation in the UK.

It’s news that the French tourism industry – which contributes 9.7 percent of the country’s GDP – could well do without. 

As director of the Office de Tourisme Provence Occitane said a couple of weeks before the travel ban was imposed: “We love British tourists in France and Provence. We are waiting for them with impatience.”

So how much of a hit will this be to the French economy?

It’s often quoted that almost 10 percent of France’s GDP derives from tourism, but while this is true international tourism accounts for just 30 percent of that figure – the rest is taken care of by French people going on holiday in their own country with the traditional month-long August break a big economic driver.

According to tourism body Atout France, around 13 million Britons visited France in 2019. They spent an average of 6.5 days in France, and spent €6 billion.

Looking back to the pre-pandemic year of 2019, EU countries accounted for 69 percent of all international arrivals in France, with the United Kingdom (which was then still counted as part of the EU) Germany and the Benelux countries making up 46 percent of those.

France is Britons’ second-favourite destination, after Spain, and the top destination for short skiing breaks.

Figures for 2020 are not yet available, but forecasts unsurprisingly expect a large fall because of Covid-19, although travel between the UK and France was open over the summer with restrictions in place.

Going back a couple of years, between 2017 and 2018, British tourists were responsible for almost 2 million stays in Paris alone.

Statistica reported that British tourists spent €5.77 billion in France in 2017 – up from €4.72 billion the previous year – representing a sizeable chunk of the €62 billion in receipts from international tourism. 

ALSO READ: Reader question: Can I travel to France if I am fully vaccinated?

What about tourists from other countries?

Although the British market is clearly important, French tourism is not entirely reliant on British visitors.

France is the world’s most popular tourist destination – welcoming more than 90 million visitors in 2019 alone.

But an estimated 60 to 70 percent of its tourism revenue is generated by domestic tourism, meaning it is rather less dependent on vast holiday crowds from abroad flocking to its beaches in search of sun, sea and pastis.

In 2015, French tourists spent €7.2 billion on package holidays in France, and that’s not counting the many French people who have a second home in the country or by the sea where they spend holiday periods and spend their money in resort bars, restaurants and shops. 

Change in direction

Prior to the pandemic, France was already courting a different tourist demographic.

ALSO READ: IN NUMBERS: How important are American tourists to France?

US and Chinese tourists with money to burn were the ones increasingly booking up Paris’s high-end hotels and packing out the capital’s designer stores.

Though numbers were small compared to EU visitors – 10 percent of all tourists in 2019 came from the Americas and 6.8 percent from Asia – the amounts they were spending made them valuable.

France will be especially keen to get them back as early as possible and is pushing to allow fully-vaccinated tourists from non-EU countries from June, if the health situation permits.

ALSO READ: Reader question: Can I use my American vaccination certificate to enter France? 

But they will have to work harder to attract them, with other nations’ tourist bosses increasingly setting their sights on quality over quantity in a post-Covid world

What does the tourist industry think of the UK travel ban?

Those involved in the French tourism industry are very aware that losing British visitors for a second year will hurt, and have already called for government help.

“It’s reasonable in terms of saving the French summer but will be very punishing for regions that depend on British holidaymakers,” Ge Kusters, owner of Le Paradis campsite in the Dordogne area and president of the regional campsite union, told Reuters.

“More financial support will have to follow.”

There is no denying the pandemic hit on the tourism industry has been brutal. 

According to the country’s national statistics agency, Insee, hotel stays dropped 65 percent in the Paris region alone in 2020. The Grand Est region suffered the second-biggest drop of 51 percent – also the national average.

Luxury hotels bore the brunt of the downturn because the number of international visitors dropped off a cliff.

In the second half of 2020, the decrease in the number of overnight stays reached 60 percent in four and five-star hotels, compared to an average of 45 percent in other categories.

And while overseas visitors to France fell 56.6 percent in 2020, that figure was offset slightly by just an 8.1 percent dip in French folk heading on holiday, which helped cushion the blow.

Many, however, chose to stay with family and friends or in second homes, rather than hotels, or B&Bs.

Member comments

  1. Missed like a broken leg. No unruly rugrats running wild in the shops and no adults acting like children.

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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.