Since May 31st, only essential travel from the UK to France has been allowed over fears of the newly-renamed Delta variant of Covid first discovered in India.
At present there is no end-date to these restrictions and everything depends on the health situation in the UK.
It’s news that the French tourism industry – which contributes 9.7 percent of the country’s GDP – could well do without.
As director of the Office de Tourisme Provence Occitane said a couple of weeks before the travel ban was imposed: “We love British tourists in France and Provence. We are waiting for them with impatience.”
So how much of a hit will this be to the French economy?
It’s often quoted that almost 10 percent of France’s GDP derives from tourism, but while this is true international tourism accounts for just 30 percent of that figure – the rest is taken care of by French people going on holiday in their own country with the traditional month-long August break a big economic driver.
According to tourism body Atout France, around 13 million Britons visited France in 2019. They spent an average of 6.5 days in France, and spent €6 billion.
Looking back to the pre-pandemic year of 2019, EU countries accounted for 69 percent of all international arrivals in France, with the United Kingdom (which was then still counted as part of the EU) Germany and the Benelux countries making up 46 percent of those.
France is Britons’ second-favourite destination, after Spain, and the top destination for short skiing breaks.
Figures for 2020 are not yet available, but forecasts unsurprisingly expect a large fall because of Covid-19, although travel between the UK and France was open over the summer with restrictions in place.
Going back a couple of years, between 2017 and 2018, British tourists were responsible for almost 2 million stays in Paris alone.
Statistica reported that British tourists spent €5.77 billion in France in 2017 – up from €4.72 billion the previous year – representing a sizeable chunk of the €62 billion in receipts from international tourism.
What about tourists from other countries?
Although the British market is clearly important, French tourism is not entirely reliant on British visitors.
France is the world’s most popular tourist destination – welcoming more than 90 million visitors in 2019 alone.
But an estimated 60 to 70 percent of its tourism revenue is generated by domestic tourism, meaning it is rather less dependent on vast holiday crowds from abroad flocking to its beaches in search of sun, sea and pastis.
In 2015, French tourists spent €7.2 billion on package holidays in France, and that’s not counting the many French people who have a second home in the country or by the sea where they spend holiday periods and spend their money in resort bars, restaurants and shops.
Change in direction
Prior to the pandemic, France was already courting a different tourist demographic.
US and Chinese tourists with money to burn were the ones increasingly booking up Paris’s high-end hotels and packing out the capital’s designer stores.
Though numbers were small compared to EU visitors – 10 percent of all tourists in 2019 came from the Americas and 6.8 percent from Asia – the amounts they were spending made them valuable.
France will be especially keen to get them back as early as possible and is pushing to allow fully-vaccinated tourists from non-EU countries from June, if the health situation permits.
But they will have to work harder to attract them, with other nations’ tourist bosses increasingly setting their sights on quality over quantity in a post-Covid world
What does the tourist industry think of the UK travel ban?
Those involved in the French tourism industry are very aware that losing British visitors for a second year will hurt, and have already called for government help.
“It’s reasonable in terms of saving the French summer but will be very punishing for regions that depend on British holidaymakers,” Ge Kusters, owner of Le Paradis campsite in the Dordogne area and president of the regional campsite union, told Reuters.
“More financial support will have to follow.”
There is no denying the pandemic hit on the tourism industry has been brutal.
According to the country’s national statistics agency, Insee, hotel stays dropped 65 percent in the Paris region alone in 2020. The Grand Est region suffered the second-biggest drop of 51 percent – also the national average.
Luxury hotels bore the brunt of the downturn because the number of international visitors dropped off a cliff.
In the second half of 2020, the decrease in the number of overnight stays reached 60 percent in four and five-star hotels, compared to an average of 45 percent in other categories.
And while overseas visitors to France fell 56.6 percent in 2020, that figure was offset slightly by just an 8.1 percent dip in French folk heading on holiday, which helped cushion the blow.
Many, however, chose to stay with family and friends or in second homes, rather than hotels, or B&Bs.