Few tourists are gazing at the Mona Lisa or wandering the streets of Paris this summer, dashing hopes that the top tourist destination would see brighter days after last year’s pandemic-linked desertion.
The City of Light has seen between 3.6mn and 4.7mn visitors between June and August, down from 10mn in 2019, before the coronavirus emerged and wrecked international travel, according to tourism office figures. Only 2.6mn tourists visited Paris last year.
“With clients from afar not coming, the impact is considerable,” Didier Arino, director of the travel firm Protourisme, told AFP.
France eased its travel rules ahead of the summer season, putting countries in a red, orange and green colour-coded system that determines if visitors need to take a COVID-19 test before arriving, have a compelling reason to visit or quarantine.
Museums and other cultural venues reopened after long closures, though visitors have to show proof of vaccination or negative tests. But Paris visitor numbers are still not encouraging enough.
Arino said occupancy rates at hotels in Paris were worse than elsewhere in France, with revenues down 60 percent.
Romain Jouhaud, director general of 4 Roues Sous 1 Parapluie, a company that offers guided visits in a classic French car in the capital, said he only had 120 customers this summer compared to 360 in 2019. Most of his clients are from the United States and Australia.
“We’re trying to get a bit more French clients but our problem is that our average price (150 euros) is a little high,” he said, noting that the French usually spend less than foreigners.
Tour guides have also suffered from the absence of tourists, with activity dropping by more than 80 percent in the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, according to the FNGIC association of guides.
“Paris is a mirror of the great European capitals,” Arino said. “They all have problems and the more they depend on foreign clients, the more difficult it is.”
On the river Seine, the sightseeing boat company Vedettes de Paris has seen turnover drop 50 percent compared to 2019. French clients used to make up half the number of passengers – they accounted for 65 percent this year.
The company has adapted by adding an ‘aperitif cruise’ and installing an area to play petanque on its dock.
“We learned to reinvent ourselves, give the Seine and Eiffel Tower back to Parisians,” said the company’s director, Marie Bozzonie. The Eiffel Tower reopened in mid-July after a nine-month hiatus due to the pandemic, but it has only had 13,000 visitors per day – half its usual number. Some 50 per cent are French compared to 20 per cent in the past. Similar scenes have been seen at the Grevin Museum, which features wax figures of famous people.
Half of its visitors are usually foreigners. It is down to 10 per cent this year, according to Francois Frassier, a director at the Compagnie des Alpes, which owns the museum and theme parks.