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Tourism

Independent hotels urge travelers to 'Choose France' to offset Covid-19 impact

The hotel Le Petit Vatel in the Norman town of the Harve is one of several hotels that have joined forces under a new campaign called "I choose France" to lure travelers to book with them directly.
The hotel Le Petit Vatel in the Norman town of the Harve is one of several hotels that have joined forces under a new campaign called "I choose France" to lure travelers to book with them directly. © Courtesy of Thomas Richard

Travelers who book directly with a hotel will soon be able to get money off their bill to encourage them to prioritise independent hotels over online travel agencies.

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It's hoped the ''I choose France" scheme will provide a boost to the Covid-hit local tourism industry by encouraging travelers to choose France for their summer vacation.

"More people are increasingly buying local as a result of Covid-19," explains independent hotel owner Thomas Richard behind the new scheme. "We wanted to tap into this emerging trend."

The scheme, which brings together 300 independent hotels under one platform, tries to lure customers to book with hotels directly by offering special rate discounts.

Guests are notably awarded 4 euros off their next booking when they reserve a hotel room directly with the owner.

"We wanted to educate people about the importance of supporting independent hotels," continues Richard, who was forced to shut his Petit Vatel hotel in the Normandy town of Le Havre on 17 March.

"For two months, we had virtually no income," he tells RFI.

High commission

The difficult situation of independent hotels has been compounded by the high commission costs imposed by online travel agencies like Expedia and booking.com.

"I pay around 17 percent in commission fees," says Richard, although admits he would not be able to attract certain foreign visitors without the online service.

But after Covid-19, every penny counts.

"It's the difference between keeping a hotel worker on the job or paying commission fees. Many hotel owners cannot afford to do both."

Hoteliers in France are eager to bounce back after the pandemic, with many hoping to attract potential guests from this weekend's great summer getaway.

"We're not expecting a huge rush," comments Richard, whose hotel is situated off the the busy roads. 

"Our biggest activity comes when tourists from Belgium and the Netherlands stop off in the Havre on their way to Brittany."

Covid-19 measures

Since July, many tourists from Paris have also begun to return to his premises, which accommodates up to 50 people.

While getting them to respect social distancing measures has not been a problem, getting them to wear a mask has been more challenging.

"A lot of people don't respect the rules so we're obliged to keep repeating them," he says.

The current heatwave is unlikely to improve matters, with many travelers complaining that wearing a mask makes them hot.

Still, their custom is badly needed by independent hotels.

Competing against online travel agencies on price alone however is not easy.

No middle man

For Richard, who employs around 4 staff members, he's hoping to lure guests by offering them an authentic travel experience that cuts out the middle man.

"Independent hotels are the face of a family-run industry that is open and tailored to meet each customer's needs," he claims.

This industry is disappearing as big chains grow.

"Unfortunately, our margins are being squeezed and we have to make cuts. The first to go are employees, whose labour costs are the highest in the hospitality industry," he said. 

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