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How the French Riviera plans to cope without wealthy Russian tourists

The region does not appear to have had trouble finding big spenders from other countries to make up for the loss of rich Russian visitors

How the French Riviera plans to cope without wealthy Russian tourists
The Cap-Ferrat peninsula was a playground for wealthy Russians before the pandemic and sanctions imposed because of the invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: Christophe Simon / AFP)

Private chef Selim M’nasri used to cook for wealthy Russians on the French Riviera once a month, but he says it has been “radio silence” from them since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

So the 34-year-old Nice cook is now working for elite athletes and other rich clients.

The Covid pandemic and now Western sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine war have kept rich Russians away from the French Riviera, historically one of their favourite foreign destinations.

But the region does not appear to have had trouble finding big spenders from other countries to make up for the loss of wealthy Russian visitors.

The Covid-19 pandemic had already caused an 80 percent drop in the number of Russian tourists in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, according to the head of the local tourism committee, Francois de Canson.

After Paris, it had been the second most popular French destination for Russian visitors. And it is a historic hotspot, too – Russian visitors have stayed here in “sumptuous villas since the 19th century,” de Canson said.

READ ALSO Frostier welcome for Russians in French billionaires’ playground

Russia may not account for the largest number of tourists, but in the past, they could be relied on to bring enormous wealth to the coast.

“There’s not a huge volume,” said Denis Zanon, general manager of the Nice metropolitan tourist office, “but there is a fringe of this market with a lot of money, who live on the coast and whose guests rent villas nearby, bringing work to the luxury hoteliers, yacht rental companies, and private caterers.”

French Riviera workers in these industries have noticed the change. Lea Combelonge, who worked as a private chef during the pandemic, has lost her rich Russian customers, too.

They could be complicated clients – sometimes making last-minute orders for caviar – but they were also generous, she said.

It hasn’t been difficult to make up the lost business though, she added, because “there are rich people everywhere”.

M’nasri agreed. “There’s plenty of work,” he said.

Replacing Russian visitors

The European Union has blacklisted hundreds of Russian oligarchs and politicians since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, adding many more following the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

But many ordinary Russian families living in France have stayed on the coast, according to Thomas de Pariente, deputy director of tourism in Cannes.

“You can still hear Russian spoken on the Croisette,” he said, referring to the city’s famous beachfront promenade.

But a new “high-contribution” clientele, from Qatar and the United States in particular, has helped tourism on the Riviera rebound since the reopening of borders, he said.

The tourism sector had been courting new customers, including Scandinavian and Canadian visitors, even before the pandemic began.

Promotional campaigns have helped “limit the damage”, said president of the region Renaud Muselier.

“After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine (they) took up these communication campaigns and made considerable efforts towards the United States”, said de Canson.

There are now three daily direct flights between Nice and New York. A Nice-Montreal flight has also opened.

At the end of April 2022, bookings in the region were up 21 percent on the same period in 2019, according to the CRT.

In Cannes, high-end rental specialist Romain Benichou said “not a single villa is available” for July-August.

Meanwhile villas sold by Russians following the war in Ukraine have found buyers among the French, said Nicolas Dos Passos of the Albert Immobilier agency in Cannes.

Another sign that the rich are here: Yacht spaces at ports in Cannes and Marseille are full, according to Fabrice Viard, manager at Liberty Yachts company.

“It feels like the 2022 season will be a good one,” he said.

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TRAVEL NEWS

France and Germany announce 60,000 free train tickets this summer

Young people across France and Germany may be able to benefit from free rail tickets this summer, part of a joint initiative to strengthen ties between the two countries.

France and Germany announce 60,000 free train tickets this summer

French and Germany transport ministers announced in a joint press release that 60,000 free train tickets would be made available to young people to help facilitate exchange between the two countries this summer.

The release did not specify the age restrictions, but the ‘young person’s railcard’ schemes in France are available to people under 26.

French and German transport ministers Clément Beaune and Volker Wissing announced that “60,000 tickets will be made available free of charge, according to terms and conditions which will be specified shortly”.

The scheme will be supported financially by both countries’ national rail service – SNCF for France, and Deutsche Bahn for Germany. French media reported that tickets will be allocated through a draw.

The goal of the free ticket plan, which is set to be put into place during the summer of 2023, is to encourage young people to travel between the two countries, and to build up more cultural exchange between France and Germany. 

It was announced to coincide with the 60th anniversary of France and Germany signing of the Élysée Treaty – which helped to build bilateral cooperation between the former adversaries.

The two heads of state – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, met in Paris on Sunday to mark the occasion.

READ MORE: France, Germany firm up ties as European ‘driving force’

Additionally, the German transport minister told French daily Libération that the project was also intended to fight against climate change, by incentivising rail travel. 

“The plan aims to achieve our climate objectives for the transport sector. We need to convince even more people to travel by train. To do this, we have to offer attractive offers,” Wissing said.

Germany has already announced other schemes to encourage rail travel, such as the implementation of the €49 monthly rail pass.

READ MORE: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

The French transport ministry also highlighted that the free ticket scheme is not the only rail service plan to better connect the two countries. The Paris to Berlin high speed TGV train is set to be launched in 2024, and by late 2023 (or early 2024) the night train connecting the two cities will make its return.

READ MORE: Planes, trains, and ferries: The new international travel routes from France in 2023

Travellers can also take advantage of other high-speed lines connecting the two countries, such as the high speed direct line that already connects Paris to Munich. 

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