Disneyland Paris reopens as summer tourist season gets underway in shadow of Covid epidemic
Europe’s most visited theme park was one of several sites of summer activities to reopen or get underway in the Paris region on Wednesday, launching a subdued tourist season that comes at a time of warnings of a resurfacing coronavirus epidemic.
The day following the Bastille Day national holiday on 14 July typically marks something of an unofficial start of summer holidays in France, with families going on vacation and foreign visitors arriving for the height of the tourist season.
The coronavirus epidemic that shut down the French economy in late winter and early spring and obliged heavy restrictions on international travel is destined to make for a low-key summer period this year.
As Disneyland Paris emerged from a four-month shutdown on Wednesday, strict health restrictions and limitations on the number of admissions all but ensure Europe’s most popular private tourist destination will not draw its usual 15 million annual visitors.
Health restrictions make for limited reopening
Advanced bookings are required and no tickets are sold at the entrance. Playgrounds, makeup workshops and many rides where it is difficult to ensure distancing remain closed. Hundreds of disinfecting and hand-washing stations were scattered throughout the park, and face masks are mandatory for anyone aged 11 and up.
Staff are charged with maintaining physical distancing and ensuring limited capacity. Unions representing workers told Le Monde newspaper they expected the park would allow no more than 24,000 visitors per day, compared with the 80,000 daily visitors in a typical peak season.
The economic fallout is expected to spread beyond the theme park itself.
Walt Disney World says its Paris location employs some 17,000 people directly and another 39,000 indirectly, a major driver for the economy of Marne-la-Vallée, a city 45 kilometres east of Paris.
Many hotels around the park remained closed, anticipating fewer foreign visitors who tend to spend more money during their visits than French tourists do.
Paris tourism expected to suffer
Tourism is a key sector of France’s economy, and the government announced in May it was pledging rescue funds for the industry worth 18 billion euros, a larger sum than its offers for both the automobile and aeronautics industries.
Attractions that are open have to balance their business needs with the need to ensure public health and safety.
French theme parks in other parts of the country have been able to open since mid-June. One of them, Puy du Fou in western France, came under scrutiny due to images circulating of visitors ignoring physical distancing rules.
In Paris, the top floor of the Eiffel Tower also reopened on Wednesday, and city workers began preparing the quays along the Seine River for the annual Paris Beach attraction, both major drivers of tourism expecting lower turnout this year.
Retailers struggle with summer sales
Wednesday also saw a subdued launch to the summer sales period in the retail sector, which was already three weeks after the initial launch date of 24 June.
Clothing stores did not see the usual rush of shoppers trying on everything in sight, with limits placed on access to changing rooms and the number of articles that can be touched.
Given the restrictions and climate, some in the textile industry considered calling off the summer sales entirely.
“We see Covid-19 is taking off again,” Laurent Milchior, president of retailer Etam, told BFM television on Monday. “We all have responsibilities, business leaders and citizens, to ensure the virus does not spread.
“The sales have to do with volume, there needs to be a lot of people in a store for them to work,” he continued. “It’s not completely reasonable.”
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