The 2020 summer tourist season in France was better than expected

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In the wake of what French officials called a “catastrophic” spring tourist season resulting from coronavirus lockdowns, the country’s travel industry has rebounded this summer thanks to a smaller-than-expected drop in tourist numbers.

According to a new report from Tourism DNA, the national federation that represents tourism offices and government agencies in France, only 53% of French people traveled for vacations in July and August, up from 71% in 2019. But 94% of those who traveled made their trips in France, which a boost to the travel industry.

As a result, some jurisdictions report that their overall visitor count was higher than in 2019. Indeed, in some cases, the number of visitors for July and August has increased by 10% or more.

These figures are preliminary and come from a mix of DNA surveys of its members as well as mobile phone data. The regions studied included Aix Marseille Provence, Ardèche, the Drôme Valley, Charente-Maritime, the coastal areas around Hérault, the mountain areas of Isère and the coastal areas of Var. More definitive figures will probably arrive in several weeks when the French statistical agency, Insee, publishes its seasonal report.

Still, this snapshot offered a glimpse of how that country’s essential tourism industry had adapted to the pandemic.

This summer season was generally marked by an absence of international tourists. Although the report noted that in July, the country saw a surge of visitors from Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. But there has been a sharp drop in visitors from Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK. The latter was particularly disturbed by the British government to impose a 14-day quarantine on people returning from France.

The study found that French tourists are increasingly choosing vacation rentals that offer greater privacy and appear safer in terms of sanitation. Hotels and campgrounds with shared facilities were less popular.

As many had predicted, activities such as biking, hiking, and other outdoor pursuits surged. Indeed, parts of Normandy and the Southern Alps have said the season may have been one of the strongest ever. The cycle routes of the Loire Valley, famous for its many castles, saw an increase in the number of cyclists by 34% in July compared to the previous year, and by 9% during the first 15 days of August.

While 30% of French tourists stayed in the countryside, urban areas saw larger declines. In addition, if 37% of French tourists have chosen coastal areas, these same regions still suffer from the lack of international visitors.

Other trends uncovered by the study:

  • More travelers visiting nearby destinations.
  • No more “ultra-last minute” bookings.
  • Shorter overall stays.

The results would indicate that a national campaign to get French citizens to explore their own country to support the struggling tourist economy has had some success. In addition to advertising local destinations, many regions offered various packages and discounts to attract visitors.

Despite these somewhat positive indicators, the industry remains worried for the weeks to come. Even with the reopening of schools, weekends in September are traditionally popular times for tourists. And at the end of October, schools have a two-week vacation which also remains an economically important tourist period.

But with the resurgence of coronavirus cases in France and the re-imposition of new health measures such as the compulsory wearing of masks, tourism officials fear that the French will decide to stay at home rather than expose themselves to the risk.

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