French tourism better than pre-COVID, despite climate woes
PARIS (AP) — Tourism came back with a vengeance to France this summer, sending revenues over pre-pandemic levels, according to government estimates released this week.
Crowds packed Paris landmarks and Riviera beaches, notably thanks to an influx of Americans benefiting from the weak euro, but also British and other European visitors reveling in the end of pandemic restrictions.
“It’s beautiful to go again to travel,” said Serena Veronese, a tourist from Lago Maggiore in Italy soaking in the view of the Eiffel Tower. She and her husband work for an airline and “suffered a lot” as the COVID-19 crisis grounded planes worldwide. “Now people have to go traveling again, they have to.”
The summer surge came despite exceptionally hot weather in France and around Europe, record drought and devastating wildfires. The season saw chaos in European airports and rising prices that hit tourists, too.
Spending on tourism in France reached pre-pandemic levels and has even surpassed it in some areas, Tourism Minister Olivia Gregoire told reporters.
According to the government’s preliminary estimates, tourism spending in France this summer was 10% higher than 2019, based on data from bank card use and lodging and restaurant revenues.
All that is important for an industry that accounts for 8% of the French economy and 2 million jobs.
Tourist visits are expected to ebb as autumn kicks in, but the summer influx was so big that the French government is considering ways to make tourism of the future more sustainable, such as imposing crowd limits in popular spots and drawing travelers to less-famous sites.
France saw 90 million tourists in 2019, and could eventually hit 100 million a year as tourism rebounds and as France hosts global events like next year’s Rugby World Cup and the 2024 Olympics, Gregoire said.
“We can’t necessarily follow the same practices in 10, 20 years, given the climate episodes we are facing,” Gregoire told reporters.
As concerns resurface about the impact of overtourism, Gregoire said France is aiming to “rethink tourism today and tomorrow” to provide better quality experiences, take climate and emissions into account and ensure that people of all incomes can enjoy tourist experiences.
About three out of every 10 French people didn’t take a summer vacation, mainly because they couldn’t afford to.
Of the foreigners who visited France this summer, there was a “big return” of British tourists and “the Americans came back in force,” along with Dutch, German and Belgian visitors, said Hugo Alvarez, head of French tourism development agency Atout France.
Overlooking the Seine River, Lucrecia Evans of Houston said: “Our dollar is a lot stronger for us. We have done a lot more shopping, I am taking out more euros to take home for my next trip, because the dollar is stronger to the euro right now which is normally not the case.”
American and European visitors made up for a notable absence of Asian tourists in France, kept home by continued virus restrictions in some countries. France has lifted nearly all COVID rules.
“We were here just before the COVID crisis the last time,” said Ainsley Taylor, visiting Paris from Banbury, England. “It’s great to be back.”
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.