France launches charm offensive to lure back tourists after Covid closures

People sheltering from the rain, sit on a bench facing the sea, on the "Promenade des Anglais" on the French riviera city of Nice, on 10 May, 2021.
People sheltering from the rain, sit on a bench facing the sea, on the "Promenade des Anglais" on the French riviera city of Nice, on 10 May, 2021. © AFP/Valery Hache

France has joined the race to woo tourists on the move again after a year of national lockdowns and Covid-19 travel restrictions, launching a multi-million-euro campaign targeted mainly at Europeans.


"France is kind of the world in miniature," Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, the junior minister at the foreign ministry in charge of tourism, told a virtual press conference Tuesday.

"It's 50 shades of holidays. Everyone can choose their own," he added.

France, which is at the tail end of a severe third wave of Covid-19 and has trailed Britain and the US in vaccinations, faces stiff competition from other favourite destinations that have been less battered by the pandemic.

On Tuesday, France launched the campaign #ExploreFrance promoting the country's lifestyle, including its food and culture, in 10 European markets -- Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Comparing the campaign to that of Switzerland, which is fronted by tennis champion Roger Federer, the head of France's tourism development agency, Caroline Leboucher, said France sparked "more emotion" than the "cold sanitary perfection" of the Swiss.

France, where bars and restaurants are due to reopen from 19 May after being closed for nearly seven months, is also counting on domestic visitors to shore up the ailing tourism sector.

Lemoyne urged the French to go "blue, white and red" for the holidays. "Our tourism operators have suffered a lot."

France says visitors from the EU and a handful of other countries, including Britain and Israel, will be required to show a negative PCR test on arrival.

Visitors from most non-EU countries, including the US, meanwhile are still officially prohibited from entering, unless they can prove "compelling" reasons for travel.

French President Emmanuel Macron gave 9 June as the prospective date for the return of non-EU tourists.

The European Commission has suggested it will open up travel for vaccinated US tourists this summer.  

Italy, Greece and Spain

Tourism revenue in France amounted to 57 billion euros in 2019, a year before the pandemic, representing around 7.5 percent of GDP.

Europeans made up three-quarters of the tourists received by France before the health crisis.

But competition is more intense this year for travellers, who are expected to spend big on what for many will be their first foreign holiday in over a year.

Italy, which is counting on a tourist revival to emerge from a deep recession, said last week it was ready to welcome back travellers.

"It's time for you to book your holidays in Italy!" Prime Minister Mario Draghi declared.

Greece, Iceland and Croatia have already waived restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers from EU countries, as well as US, Britain and Israel, in order to ensure they do not lose bookings.

Greece is extolling the virtues of sun-kissed "Covid-free" islands where everyone is vaccinated against the virus.

Croatia, meanwhile, has drawn up a map of "Covid-free zones" on its islands.

As for Spain, it expects to welcome around 45 million foreign tourists in 2021, just over half the number who came in 2019 before the pandemic struck, the tourism minister said Wednesday.

"It's a cautious forecast but it's realistic," Reyes Maroto told reporters. "We can recover half of the international tourists that we had in 2019."

The world's second most popular destination after France, Spain registered 83.5 million foreign visitors in 2019, official figures show.

EU-wide digital health pass

With the holiday season set to start next month, pressure is growing on the European Commission to finalise a highly-anticipated EU-wide digital health pass.

The pass, which will allow people who are fully vaccinated, have already had Covid-19 or who have tested negative for the virus to travel within the bloc, is seen as a key tool to save the summer holiday period.

While it will initially be used only for travel in Europe, the EU is working on the pass being mutually recognised with certificates from non-EU countries, particularly the United States.

(with wires)

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