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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Revealed: The fastest way to get across Paris

Car, moped, public transport, or electric bicycle - which means of transport is the quickest way to get across Paris?

Revealed: The fastest way to get across Paris

One intrepid reporter for French daily Le Parisien decided to find out. 

The challenge was simple. Which mode of transport would get the journalist from the heart of Fontenay-sous-Bois in the eastern suburbs to the newspaper’s office on Boulevard de Grenelle, west Paris, fastest?

Over four separate journeys, each one in the middle of rush hour, the electric bicycle was quickest and easiest. More expensive than conventional bikes, electric bikes do come with a government subsidy.

The journey was described as ‘pleasant and touristy’ on a dry but chilly morning going via dedicated cycle lanes that meant the dogged journalist avoided having to weave in and out of traffic.

It took, in total, 47 minutes from start to finish at an average speed of 19km/h, on a trip described as “comfortable” but with a caveat for bad weather. The cost was a few centimes for charging up the bike.

In comparison, a car journey between the same points took 1 hour 27 minutes – a journey not helped by a broken-down vehicle. Even accounting for that, according to the reporter’s traffic app, the journey should – going via part of the capital’s southern ringroad – have taken about 1 hr 12.

Average speed in the car was 15km/h, and it cost about €2.85 in diesel – plus parking.

A “chaotic and stressful” moped trip took 1 hour 3 minutes, and cost €1.30 in unleaded petrol.

Public transport – the RER and Metro combined via RER A to Charles-de-Gaulle-Étoile then Metro line 6 to the station Bir-Hakeim – took 50 minutes door to door, including a 10-minute walk and cost €2.80. The journey was described as “tiring”.

READ ALSO 6 ways to get around Paris without the Metro