Homegrown holidaymakers and health measures ‘have saved summer tourism’ in France

France's Covid-19 measures - including the controversial health passport - and homegrown holidaymakers have ‘saved the summer’, according to tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

Homegrown holidaymakers and health measures 'have saved summer tourism' in France
A busy beach in Nice on August 15, 2021. Photo: Valery Hache / AFP

“I think we saved the summer in a context that was not obvious,” he told LCI on Wednesday, August 25th. “We managed to continue the summer [holiday] season thanks to braking measures that were taken very early, and thanks also to the health passport.”

At the start of the month, Lemoyne had confidently predicted that France would welcome some 50 million foreign tourists this summer – but it has been domestic travel that has kept the country’s tourism industry on track for what appears to have been a better summer holiday period than many had anticipated.

An estimated 85 percent of French holidaymakers preferred to get away from it all on home soil, compared to 75 percent in 2019, Lemoyne revealed – as he welcomed the ‘very good performance’ of campsites this summer.

“Gîtes de France [bookings] are up 10 percent compared in July to 2019, which itself was a record year,” he added.

READ ALSO Tourists return to France – but Brits are still absent

Hundreds of thousands of French holidaymakers headed for mountain areas, with tourist numbers up 24 percent in the Pyrenees, Lemoyne revealed. “This means that the mountains have recovered after a winter that was very complicated, since the ski lifts were closed,” he insisted.

Hoteliers appear to be broadly backing Lemoyne’s optimism. Despite the gloomy weather and the lack of foreign visitors, hoteliers announced a 47 percent increase in turnover compared to summer 2020.

Olivier Cohn, general manager of Best Western Hotels & Resorts France, told BFMTV on August 25th that the summer has been “rather good”.

“It is better than last year, not yet quite at the level of 2019, we are at -15 percent in July and -2 or -3 percent in August compared to 2019,” he said.

“The countryside and the coast have done extremely well,” he added, unlike city centre cultural tourism, which traditionally attracts foreign tourists keen to ‘see the sights’. 

The share of foreign tourists staying at Best Western hotels in France was just 10 percent, compared to 40 percent during a traditional summer holiday period.

But, he said: “There was a compensation effect – 90 percent of our clientele (…) were French this summer,” he explained. “The French stayed in France and the few foreigners who travelled here were from nearby countries, German, Belgian or Dutch.”

Many operators remarked that British tourists were notably absent, probably due to UK travel rules which see many people facing expensive tests and quarantines on their return from France.

READ ALSO ANALYSIS: How will the loss of British tourists affect France’s economy?

While the traditional summer holiday season is nearly over, Lemoyne said that he hoped that pensioners, able to take a break outside high season, would extend the seasonal tourism boost a while longer.

He added that the resumption of ‘event tourism’ and a hoped-for uptick in business travel in the autumn would help cities.

But in among the optimism there remains one gloomy spot – Paris.

According to the Office du tourisme et des congrès de Paris, Greater Paris attracted between 3.6 and 4.7 million tourists between June and August, less than half the figure of 2019. 

In Île-de-France, the fourth quarter accounts for half of the city’s annual tourist numbers via a mix of professionals participating in trade fairs and conferences, foreign tourists and senior travel, attracted by the resumption of cultural events. 

While the number of autumn trade fairs and events in the capital are set to return to pre-pandemic levels, many are half the size of previous years, the boss of the company that manages the largest convention sites in the greater Paris area told Le Monde.

Hoteliers are worried, too.

“Excluding Covid-19, Parisian hotels fluctuate between 80 percent and 90 percent occupancy in September, thanks to Fashion Week in particular,” Christophe Laure, president of the prestige branch of the Union des métiers et des hospitality industries said. “Today, forecasts do not exceed 20 percent percent. We hope to finish with 10 or 15 more points.”

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Weekend travel warning on French roads as summer getaway continues

The roads will be packed over the weekend France's roads watchdog has warned as tens of thousands of holidaymakers escape the cities and head for coast or countryside. 

Weekend travel warning on French roads as summer getaway continues

The Bison Futé service has classed traffic levels across most of France on Saturday as red – its second highest level, meaning travel on roads out of all major French cities will be “very difficult” – with those in the eastern Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region classed as  “extremely difficult”, the highest level.

But the problems begin earlier, with traffic levels on France’s major arterial routes rising from lunchtime on Friday, as some holidaymakers set off early to avoid the rush.

Image: Bison Futé

Bison Futé advises road users heading away from major cities in France to:

  • leave or cross the Île-de-France before 12noon;
  • avoid the A13 between Paris and Rouen from 5pm to 9pm, and between Rouen and Caen from 3pm to 9pm;
  • avoid the A10 between Orleans and Tours from 4pm to 7pm;
  • avoid the A63 between Bordeaux and Bayonne from 3pm to 7pm;
  • avoid the A7 between Lyon and Orange from 4pm to 10pm, and between Salon-de-Provence and Marseille from 3pm to 8pm;
  • avoid the A8 between Aix-en-Provence and Nice from 12pm to 8pm;
  • avoid the A9 between Montpellier and Narbonne from 4pm to 7pm;
  • avoid the A62 between Bordeaux and Toulouse from 4pm to 8pm;
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel in the direction of Italy from 1pm to 7pm (waiting time greater than 1 hour).

Meanwhile, those heading back to the cities from popular French holiday resorts should:

  • avoid the A13 between Rouen and Paris from 5pm to 8pm;
  • avoid the A10 between Bordeaux and Poitiers from 1pm to 8pm;
  • avoid the A7 between Orange and Lyon from 3pm to 6pm;
  • avoid the A8 near Aix-en-Provence from 4pm to 9pm;
  • avoid the A62 between Toulouse and Agen from 3pm to 8pm.

On Saturday, the busiest day of the weekend on France’s roads, Bison Fute says motorists heading away from major cities should:

Image: Bison Futé
  • leave or cross Ile-de-France after 4pm;
  • avoid the A13 between Rouen and Caen from 1pm to 3pm;
  • avoid the A11 between Paris and Le Mans from 11am to 1pm;
  • avoid the A10 at the Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines toll area from 8am to 12pm, and between Orléans and Bordeaux from 10am to 6pm;
  • avoid the A63 between Bordeaux and Bayonne from 1pm to 5pm, 
  • go through the Fleury toll area on the A6 after 12pm;
  • avoid the A7 between Lyon and Orange from 10am to 3pm and between Salon-de-Provence and Marseille from 1pm to 6pm;
  • avoid the A9 between Orange and Montpellier from 8am to 10am;
  • avoid the A75 between Clermont-Ferrand and Montpellier from 11am to 1pm;
  • avoid the A62 between Agen and Toulouse from 11am to 5pm;
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel in the direction of Italy from 10am to 1pm (waiting time greater than 1 hour);

Those heading the other way on Saturday should:

  • return to or cross Ile-de-France before 2pm;
  • avoid the A10 motorway, between Bordeaux and Poitiers, from 1pm to 3pm;
  • avoid the A7 motorway, between Marseille and Salon-de-Provence, from 9am to 3pm and between Orange and Lyon, from 12pm to 3pm;
  • avoid the A8 motorway, between Nice and Aix-en-Provence, from 10am to 2pm;
  • avoid the A9 motorway, between Montpellier and Orange, from 11am to 1pm.
  • Travel becomes much easy on French roads on Sunday, Bison Fute said.
Image: Bison Futé

But it has still issued the following advice for those travelling to holiday destinations

  • avoid the A10 between Poitiers and Bordeaux from 3pm to 5pm;
  • avoid the A63 between Bordeaux and Bayonne from 5pm to 8pm;
  • avoid the A7 between Lyon and Orange from 12pm to 4pm.

Transport Minister Clément Beaune reminded holidaymakers that motorway operators were offering 10 percent reductions in the price of tolls holders of holiday vouchers for the whole of the summer holiday period.