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TOURISM

Can tourism in France surpass pre-pandemic levels this year?

A report from the World Travel & Tourism Council predicts that the French tourism sector will bounce back strongly in 2022, potentially even surpassing pre-pandemic levels. We spoke to people in the tourist industry to see how they feel about the future.

Can tourism in France surpass pre-pandemic levels this year?
Photo by MYCHELE DANIAU / AFP

Covid-19 has battered the French tourism sector. 

In 2019, before the pandemic, tourism accounted for about 8 percent of French GDP and 9.5 percent of all jobs. The 90 million tourists who visited the country that year brought in an estimated €170 billion. 

While France is thought to remain the most visited country in the world, the last couple of years have been a disaster. Only 40 million people visited the country from overseas in 2020 (54 percent less than in 2019). Official figures for 2021 have not been released but the total number of foreign tourists was thought to be 50 million, according to government projections before the end of the year. Many have felt a real-life impact of this. 

Simon Burke left his job as an HR director for a Paris-based tour company called Fat Tire Tours last year. Withering tourist numbers meant the company was running on a skeleton staff, making his role redundant.

But in September, he incorporated a new business – Txango Tours – offering tourists guided visits of Paris, Versailles and other parts of the country in motorcycle sidecar. 

“It is really a childhood dream. I’m feeling optimistic about this season,” he said. 

Simon Burke tests out a Txango Tour sidecar in Paris.

Simon Burke tests out a Txango Tour sidecar in Paris. (Source: Txango Tours)

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, Simon’s confidence is not misplaced.

The organisation predicts strong growth in the French tourism sector this year if restrictions continue to be gradually lifted. It said that tourism industry could bring €182 million into France in 2022 and that the number of people working in it could even surpass pre-pandemic levels. 

Data from France’s national statistical authority for the last quarter of 2021 showed that tourist accommodation bookings were 8.6 percent lower than the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.

It indicated a bounce-back in domestic tourism with residents spending just 3 percent fewer nights in hotels, campsites, gites and other tourist sites than before the pandemic, but international tourists were still hesitant, with 33 percent fewer hotel stays than in 2019. 

Even before the pandemic, domestic tourism (French people holidaying within their own country) accounted for 70 percent of all tourism revenue, and over the last two years the government has promoted staycations as a ‘patriotic’ option to support the tourism industry.

But for some, the outlook remains bleak.  

Clare Dawson, who is based in the Alpine resort of Tignes, runs a website called tignes.co.uk through which she and her small team rent out dozens of self-catered chalets, organise airport transfers and hire out ski equipment. 

In the past, Clare has relied largely on seasonal workers from Britain, mostly employed on part-time contracts. But because of Brexit, this option is now much harder – given the visa requirements. 

“We just can’t get the staff,” she said. 

“Of course, we are all hoping that Covid is a short term thing, but Brexit is permanent”. 

Local labour market conditions in France mean that the local population prefer to avoid temporary, part-time contracts. The hospitality sector had been struggling to recruit enough staff even before Brexit and Covid. 

Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBIT) which is a collective of more than 200 British tourism businesses operating in the EU placed 7,000 adverts on for chalet worker jobs in pôle emploi centres during the 2018-19 ski season, guaranteeing that they would employ anyone who applied. In total, there were three responses to the ad, two of which were spam emails. 

The mountains though, haven’t escaped the pandemic altogether. Clare has had foreign guests cancel reservations at the last minute over concerns about the vaccine pass and ski lifts have been closed at various points during the pandemic. 

Her partner runs a ski rental company called Tignes Spirit which has cut staffing from 35 last year, to just 10. 

“For ski businesses, it has been a really tough couple of years,” said Clare. 

The French government has invested billions of euros in supporting the French tourism over the course of the pandemic and unveiled a further €1.9 billion in financing in November to help develop the sector further over a ten-year period – much of this funding has been earmarked for training people to work in hospitality roles.  

READ MORE What you need to know about the French ‘Tourism Plan’

Perhaps even more significant than all this spending is the easing of Covid restrictions, according to SBIT managing director, Charles Owen. 

“In terms of a bounce back, everything is relative,” he said.

“With the end of the UK-France travel ban and with restrictions being wound back, we are starting to recover. But the pandemic has caused a lasting amount of damage and many firms have not survived.” 

The US government issued a level-4 travel warning for France in December, placing it in the red do-not-travel category. This is particularly damaging to some in the industry. 

More recently the four-month booster shot requirement for the vaccine pass has created difficulties for some Americans, leading to the US Embassy issuing a warning for people to check carefully the vaccine pass rules before booking a trip. 

The candy-loaded piñata is the American market – we need them to come here,” said Simon.

The French government is talking about lifting restrictions such as mask-wearing and vaccine pass rules in the spring, when the health situation permits.

But there is no guarantee that rules would not be reimposed if a new variant emerges – epidemiologists have warned that this cannot be ruled out. 

For Simon though, the sooner that such restrictions are lifted, the better. 

“If France continues to require the vaccine to do anything in France, tourism will not return to the pre-pandemic levels we are all hoping for,” he said. 

“I think, really, restrictions need to go away. But that is just wishful thinking.” 

You can find all the latest on travel rules and testing requirements in our Travelling to France section.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Everything you need to know about travel to France from within the EU

After two years of limited travel many people are planning a holiday this year and France is a popular destination - but it's easy to lose track of the latest travel rules. Here's what you need to know if you are coming to France from a country that is within the EU or Schengen zone.

Everything you need to know about travel to France from within the EU

Restrictions

France operates a ‘traffic light’ system that has been in place since summer 2020, assigning countries a colour based on their Covid infection rates.

These days most of the world is green – the lightest level of restriction – including all the countries in the EU and Schengen zone. Find full details on the government website here.

Map: French interior ministry

Vaccinated – if you are fully vaccinated according to the French definition (see below) and travelling from a green zone country all you need to show at the border is proof of vaccination. There is no requirement for extra paperwork such as passenger locator forms or health declarations and no Covid tests needed. Once in France you are not required to quarantine.

Unvaccinated – if you are not fully vaccinated according to the French definition (see below) you will need to show a negative Covid test at the border. The test can be either a PCR test taken within the previous 72 hours or an antigen test taken within the previous 48 hours. Once in France you are not required to quarantine.

Fully vaccinated – in order to qualify as ‘fully vaccinated’ you must be vaccinated with an EMA approved vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Astra-Zeneca or Janssen) and must be at least 7 days after your final dose (or 28 days after in the case of Janssen). If you had your vaccine more than nine months ago, you will need a booster shot in order to still be classificed as ‘fully vaccinated’ if you are aged 18 and over.

Anyone vaccinated within the EU/Schengen zone will have the EU digital vaccine pass, but vaccination certificates issued outside the EU are also accepted at the French border. 

Children – The rules on vaccination apply to all children aged 12 and over. Under 12s do not need to supply proof of vaccination at the border. Children aged between 12 and 18 do not need a booster shot, even if their vaccine took place more than nine months ago.

The above rules apply to all EU and Schengen zone countries – if you are travelling from the UK click HERE, click HERE for travel from the USA and HERE for travel from other non-EU countries.

In France

So you’ve made it into France, but what are the rules once you are here?

On May 16th, France ended the mask requirement for public transport, representing one of the last Covid restrictions still in place.

Masks – masks are now only compulsory in health establishments, although they remain recommended on public transport. They are not required in other indoor spaces such as shops, bars, restaurants and tourist sites, although private businesses retain the legal right to make mask-wearing a condition of entry.

Health pass – the health pass was suspended in March and is no longer required to enter venues such as bars, restaurants and tourist sites. It is still required to enter establishements with vulnerable residents such as nursing homes. In this case it is a health pass not a vaccine pass – so unvaccinated people can present a recent negative Covid test.

Hygiene gestures – the government still recommends the practice of hygiene gestures such as hand-washing/gel and social distancing although this is a recommendation and not a rule.

Self-isolation – if you test positive for Covid while in France you are legally required to self isolate – full details HERE.

READ ALSO How tourists and visitors to France can get a Covid test

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