French tourism bounces back after two years of Covid-hit summers

After two years affected by Covid, France’s first “full” summer tourist season is drawing to a close - and early signs are that it has been a good one for the hospitality industry, with visitor levels at or above 2019 levels.

French tourism bounces back after two years of Covid-hit summers
(Photo: Valentine Chapuis / AFP)

In 2019 France was the world’s most visited tourist destination and despite wildfires and cost-of-living fears, holidaymakers flocked to tourist destinations up and down the country this summer.

Gîtes de France’s national director confirmed to AFP that occupancy rates at registered properties nationally rose to 86 percent in August – a six-point increase on 2019, the last year before Covid-19 – and even hit 100 percent between July 23rd and August 20th. 

Didier Arino, general manager of the tourism and leisure consultants Protourisme, said that the number of nights booked in hotels has increased 2 percent compared to before the pandemic while, turnover has increased by 17 percent. 

READ ALSO 6 reasons why France is the top tourist destination

Rail operator SNCF also had a good summer, saying that it carried 23 million passengers on TGV and Intercité trains in France in July and August, rising to 28 million if international services, including Eurostar, are included.

 “That makes overall 10 percent more passengers compared to the summer of 2019,” SNCF Voyageurs CEO Christophe Fanichet told Le Parisien.

While tourists returned to Paris following the pandemic – 9.9 million people visited the city this summer, down just 3.5 percent on 2019’s figures – the favourite destination in France remained the coast.

Hotels in the ever-popular Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in the south-east returned to 2019 occupancy levels, despite an average price hike of more than 30 percent.

Normandy, too, has returned to pre-pandemic occupancy rates, even though prices have jumped between 10 percent and 15 percent, according to consulting firm MKG Consulting.

The president of the Fédération Nationale de l’Hôtellerie de Plein Air said that France’s campsites have been busy since the beginning of July. A impressive 77 percent of sites in Brittany alone had reported higher business than in 2019, he said.

But some inland areas, such as the Gers or Dordogne, that had benefited from something of a tourism boost in 2020 and 2021, when more French holidaymakers stayed at home because of Covid, have not enjoyed similar success this year. Experts believe many French tourists who visited those areas in the past two summers have taken holidays abroad this year.

France’s leisure parks, too, have enjoyed a bumper year. Parc Astérix is France’s second largest theme park after Disneyland Paris, saw growth jump 20 percent compared to 2019, with the final figure of visitors in July and August expected to be between 750,000 and 800,000.

Similar growth figures were reported at other parks such as Futuroscope and Walibi, while Disneyland Paris told AFP it had enjoyed “a very positive dynamic” this summer.

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Péage: Toll rates for motorists in France to increase in 2023

France's Ministry of Transport has announced that toll-fees will increase in 2023. Here is what motorists in France can expect.

Péage: Toll rates for motorists in France to increase in 2023

With French motorists already expecting increases in fuel prices starting in January, the cost of travel on many of France’s motorways will also increase in 2023.

Toll rates on the main routes across France are set to go up by an average of 4.75 percent starting on February 1st, according to an announcement by the Ministry of Transport on Friday.

These rates already rose by two percent in 2022. 

While the increase is still lower than the rate of inflation (six percent), motorists in France can still expect driving to become more expensive in 2023, as the government does away with its broad-scale fuel rebate (€0.10 off the litre) at the start of January.

As of early December, the French government was still discussing plans for how to replace the fuel rebate. The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, told Les Echoes in November that the government was considering a targeted, means-tested “fuel allowance” for workers who depend on their vehicles to commute to and from work. 

How much will I be affected?

The degree to which drivers will experience increased costs depends largely on what kind of vehicle they use, in addition to how far you plan to drive on the toll-road. 

Vehicles are broadly classified as follows:

Class 1 (Light vehicles): these are cars and minivans. This class also includes vehicles pulling trailers with a combined height of no more than 2m and a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of less than or equal to 3.5 tonnes.
Class 2: Large utility vehicles and camping cars
Class 3: Heavy goods vehicles, coaches, other 2-axle vehicles, motorhomes taller than 3m
Class 4: Vehicles taller than 3m with a GVW greater than 3.5 tonnes
Class 5: Motorbikes, sidecars, quad bikes, three-wheeled motor vehicles 

The next determining factor for how significant the price rise will be depends on which company is operating the road you use, and there are several different companies that operate toll-roads in France. 

Each year, toll (péage) prices in France are adjusted and re-evaluated for the following year on February 1st, following discussions between the government and the main companies that operate the French freeways. The fees are in part used for road maintenance costs. 

To estimate the cost of tolls for your next French road trip, you can use the calculator on this website