French tourist chefs strain as country could be next on UK Covid quarantine list | World news


In a normal August, the popular miniature tourist train to the French port town of Sète would be full of tourists from the UK and beyond, enjoying the ride.Hopefully, manager Romiy Priore has taken steps to make his attraction safe for the Covid era. “With the virus, we decided to order disposable headphones for the start of the season on June 23 – 100 of them,” he says, huddled behind a Perspex screen in a cool cabin on the dock. “It’s August and I’m still 70. That tells you how many foreign tourists we have now.


Priore, whose parents own the business, says that with a cut in revenue of about half, they could struggle to pay the company’s three full-time employees for the rest of the year. . This week, along with tens of thousands of other companies, he’s crossing his fingers that the news from Britain is good.

With French coronavirus cases accelerating rapidly – 2,288 were reported on Friday, a sharp rise from 1,604 on Thursday, after a 33% week-over-week increase between July 27 and August 2 – the attempts to revive the tourist sector are now threatened.

While the French Ministry of Health warned last week that the country could lose control of the virus “at any time”, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government “would not hesitate” to add France to its list quarantine if the situation deteriorates. On Thursday, Norway imposed a 10-day quarantine for arrivals from France; much more of that and the holiday season in France could be dead before it started.

At the Grand Hôtel de Sète, receptionist Olivier Hernandez says he has already received several cancellations from future English customers. Restaurant owners who distribute oyster platters in the halls report that revenues are down by 30%.

The new outbreak of Covid-19 is already having an effect. Further on the Mediterranean coast, Marseille announced on Friday that wearing a mask would be compulsory in the old port district between 10 a.m. and 4 a.m., following the imposition of similar measures in parts of Nice and St Tropez at the start. last week.

Twenty kilometers away, in the city of Montpellier, half of the tables in the cafes of Place de la Comédie, its main square, are empty. Laurent Lechuga, owner of the Les Trois Graces brewery, had to catch up by opening an outdoor stand of coffee and ice cream. He thinks a new quarantine in the UK for arrivals from France would be a mistake: “You will be closing your main gateway to Europe.”

Around the corner from Montpellier’s flagship gallery, the Fabre Museum, Mark – a British citizen who works there as a security guard – jokes: “The only good thing about Covid is that no one is talking about Brexit anymore.”

He agrees with new quarantines, but only “if the UK economy can handle it”.

Ron Johnstone, a British writer living on a nearby café terrace, is also philosophical, although after the lockdown he had to wait until July – when the general quarantine was lifted – to return to the UK. “What to do is to do,” he said, pointing out that there are more than 280 clusters under observation in France.

France, the world’s most popular tourist destination, faces huge losses without foreign visitors who spent € 57.9 billion (£ 52.2 billion) there last year, according to the national tourism development agency. The southwestern Occitanie region also has a lot to lose: with 14.3% of all overnight stays in France, it is the third most visited region in the country.

Figures published last week by Hérault Tourisme, department where Montpellier and Sète are located, showed that eight out of 10 tourist establishments declared a drop in trade in June compared to the previous year.

Sète, sung in song by the French musician Georges Brassens and in the cinema by the directors Abdellatif Kechiche and Agnès Varda, has been building a more international tourist base for a few years.

On Friday, the city of Marseille made it compulsory to wear a face mask. Photography: AP

But that all came to an end earlier this year: The city’s new cruise ship season, which only started in 2016 and drew 115,000 passengers last year, has been canceled altogether. It was the same for the Worldwide festival of British DJ Gilles Peterson, a must-see on the international musical circuit. Other summer festivals, including Jazz à Sète and August’s Saint-Louis celebrations – which feature traditional water jousting battles – have also been canceled or curtailed.

In the absence of foreign income, national tourists have at least filled the void, explains Madeleine Isola, of the Sète tourist office: “The season took a long time to start, but once it was fact, it exploded. French visitors, however, spend less than foreigners, she says.

On the quayside, boat tour operators report that they are operating at full capacity – but with “very few” foreigners. On the seafront, the ravelins of the Théâtre de la Mer, a former 18th century fort, are deserted – it has been converted into an open-air cinema, which seems to be doing well. Bartender Eric Bouteille, peeling oysters with a knife in the adjacent cafe, is determined to look on the bright side: “I think other areas have had worse. We will get there. .

Additional reporting by Caroline Ragon. Some names have been changed.


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