LA BAULE-ESCOUBLAC, France, (Reuters) – The vast Atlantic bay of La Baule-Escoublac is expected to fill with vacationers enjoying a series of long weekends in May. Instead, the only activity is a bulldozer and an excavator that reshape the shore.
While France is locked, tables and chairs are stacked on the outdoor terraces of restaurants by the sea in the western seaside resort while their owners plan how to reconfigure the seats to respect the rules of social distancing of coronaviruses once the government has declared that they can reopen.
La Baule-Escoublac is a ghost town. It offers a glimpse of the financial uncertainty facing the tourism industry in France even as it and other European countries begin to reduce their restrictions on public life.
Almost 90 million foreign tourists visited France in 2018, making it the most visited country in the world, according to government data. Tourism represents around 7% of the French economy of 2.3 trillion euros (2.48 trillion dollars).
“We are not used to seeing the beach like that. The faster things get better, “said Pierre Guillou, who runs the seaside restaurant Les Fils à Maman.
Guillot’s problems extend beyond the opening of the beach. He wants to know who can visit the station’s cafes, restaurants and shops.
Across Europe, countries are grappling with the amount of freedom of movement to be restored, both across borders and internally.
France begins to loosen its lock starting Monday, but will initially impose a 100 km travel restriction on people inside COVID-19 hot spots in the “red zone”, including the Paris region, except if ‘this is a family or urgent job – related reason.
There will also be a mandatory quarantine of two weeks for travelers – French or foreign – arriving in the country outside the Schengen border area of the European Union and the United Kingdom.
President Emmanuel Macron told the French that they should go on vacation to France.
“We are going to limit major international trips, even during the summer holidays. We will remain among the Europeans, but we may have to restrict this further, “said the president this week.
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EU policy on border reopening remains loose. For example, in neighboring Italy, the early epicenter of the epidemic in Europe, anyone arriving from abroad currently faces a fortnight in quarantine, except on a short business trip.
All of this leaves Parisians in the dark as to whether they will be able to set off for the Riviera, the Dutch do not know if they can drive their motorhomes in Spain and the British do not know if they can jump the English Channel and to spread to France this summer.
The French region of Dordogne, a favorite of the British, does not rely on anyone from far away. So far this year, the region has already lost about 93 million euros in tourism revenue, according to the Dordogne tourist office.
“We will lose our foreign customers this year,” said Christophe Gravier, director of the Dordogne tourist office. It could also lose French customers if the brakes persist, those of Paris and its surroundings representing the largest group.
Gravier tore his old 400,000 euro advertising plan, abandoning a national campaign and focusing on the southwest region of New Aquitaine in which the Dordogne is located.
“We have no way of knowing what the government will decide later,” he said, referring to the travel restrictions. “Our challenge is to locally increase the attractiveness of the Dordogne.
(Reporting by Udi Kivity at La Baule-Escoublac; Additional reporting and writing by Richard Lough in Paris; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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