Build it and they will come!
Everywhere I turn these days I see articles about tourism in France — with the mandatory reference to overtourism (a consequence of mass tourism.)
I am shocked they are all shocked.
I am shocked French and foreign tourists visiting France and French authorities act surprised at the 2023 boom in reservations (hotels and airlines) and the hordes descending upon touristy sites in France (+12% overnight stays over 2022 in Q1 2023 according to the INSEE, the French National Statistics Institute.)
Brits, Germans and Dutch visitors are back in force. So are “les Américains.”
After two years of Covid and endless talk about “revenge travel” that’s a shocker indeed.
Did anyone actually believe lockdown-induced philosophical musings about “le Monde d’Après” (the After-Covid World) would actually bring a major change, regulations at major touristy sites, long-term strategies ?
Instead, France (and other European countries) reacted to the (predictable) onslaught, often scrambling. At some museums in Paris “mesurettes” (small measures) have been put in place. Welcome to the world of the “créneau horaire” (the time slot) and Disney-style, serpentine lines.
Build it and they will come. Well in 2022 and 2023, ready or not, visitors are coming. They have been here for months. Paris, a city of 2.2 million is projected to welcome over 37 million visitors in 2023.
Visitors have money to spend, staying longer and returning more often. Just ask the luxury hospitality industry that raised prices to unprecedented levels in 2022. Bookings are pouring in.
Luxury over frugality is the motto for some.
The 80/20 rule of France tourism
80% of tourists in France visit 20% of the territory.Again, a shocker.
Many among my readers had never heard of Tours (or considered visiting it) until I started promoting my adopted city in videos and publications more than two years ago. Those who’ve made it into town since have been pleasantly surprised to find such a welcoming home base to explore the Loire Valley (a 75-minute TGV ride away from Paris, Tours can be easier to access than popular day trip destinations in the Ile de France.)
The French Minister of Tourism, Olivia Grégoire, has recently uncovered a massive plan to curb overtourism in France, she says. I read the bullet points and am impatient to discover what it entails in more detail.
The goal: Convince French and foreign tourists there’s a lot more to France than Paris, the French Riviera, Provence or le Mont St Michel.
A national communication campaign and local initiatives will be launched. Influencers – Times they are a’ changin’! – will be encouraged to promote lesser-known areas in France and to stress the drawbacks of overtourism.
Sounds familiar. Isn’t this what the French Tourist Office did in Paris in 2020 and 2021 to entice Parisians to leave the capital and travel (or settle down?) in more welcoming – and less crowded – locales?
France’s new motto? Spread the crowds!
France travel: What to expect in 2023
If you are visiting France between July and Thanksgiving, expect people around you. Sometimes a lot of them. Some will be French.
For all the economic challenges many are ranting about in France, 4 out of 6 French people will be traveling this summer. More than 70% will be staying in France a destination many French nationals rediscovered in 2020 when international travel was out of the question.
The Rugby World Cup in September and October will continue drawing crowds to several French and European destinations through the Fall.
Prices are up and will stay up in cities like Paris. Availability is going down fast. Book late fall and winter travel now.
You may have to make reservations at many sites and landmarks just to get in. Do your homework and visit their websites ahead of time.
Traveling is less spontaneous. There’s no winging it successfully (or affordably) in 2023 and 2024 unless you stay well off the beaten path.
Watch out for scams.
Remember tips (“pourboires”) are neither mandatory nor expected in France. If you are the kind of visitor (or expat) who pride themselves on their generosity at the expense of the local culture, know that you are contributing to a growing problem. French waiters have come to expect (and demand!) tips from gullible travelers. I’ve seen plenty of examples lately while leading tour groups.
Wherever you travel in France be aware the hospitality industry is struggling to hire and retain staff. There’s a shortage of “saisonniers” (seasonal workers) in my area, the Loire Valley. Waiting staff at many eateries? Students. As a result of these shortages, some restaurants have to close for an extra day a week or longer. This could result in more closures in August, a slow month in the Land of the Sacred Summer Vacation.
Meals may take longer as service is slower and overworked staff get to do it all, often with a smile, and sometimes not.
Impatient (or rude) customers will learn quickly that the customer may be king but is not emperor in the French Republic.
Finally, a reminder: Self-professed “expert travelers” (“Les habitués”) and locals often look down at “tourists” during peak season when local life gets disrupted. Yet we are all tourists when we explore a destination for a day, a week, or a month.
Let’s all strive for patience and flexibility, shall we?
I know, I know… Sometimes it can be hard to do.
Good news: If you are returning to France this summer and fall, you know there will be great food and wine, glorious sights and many opportunities to explore and enjoy the local culture (Hamburgers be damned, France outside Paris is putting on a brave fight in the face of globalization!)
I hope you’ve enjoyed the June edition of the newsletter.
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