How American tourists are saving the French summer

Paris (CNN) — Summer is in full swing in Paris and the entrance square of the Louvre is full of vendors selling water or souvenirs from the Eiffel Tower. Among them is American tourist Chris Walkley enjoying his first visit to France, taking selfies with his girlfriend near the art museum’s glass pyramid.

“Paris has definitely lived up to its reputation,” says Walkley, from Boston. “The food has been excellent. Everyone has been very hospitable.”

For Walkley, traveling to France has been a symbol of getting back to normal life after two years of restrictions and disruption caused by the pandemic. “I feel like things are back on track,” he adds with a smile.

For France, the presence of Walkley is a symbol of optimism.

He is just one of tens of thousands of Americans expected to visit Paris this summer, bringing widespread relief to a Covid-battered tourism industry and the sanctions-induced loss of wealthy Russians who regularly flock to his spots. hot.

North America is expected to be the biggest contributor to the Paris tourism market this summer, according to the city government, with booking levels nearly back to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“The Americans are doing the job,” said Frédéric Hocquard, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of tourism.

“That means they’re coming back in droves and with a lot of money to spend.”

They are back!

The mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Jean-François Dieterich, claims that Russian tourists have been replaced by others.

Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou/CNN

Even outside of Paris, from north to south, tourism workers and government officials across France are chanting the same enthusiastic message: Americans are back!

It was the headline on the front page of Nice Matin, a major newspaper on the Côte d’Azur, on July 6. “They are spending lavishly after two years of restrictions,” he reported.

On average, American tourists, mainly in groups, each spend 402 dollars (400 euros) per day in France, which brings the budget for a 10-day visit to 7,687 dollars, far ahead of all other foreign tourists, according to a report. produced by the research company GfK for Visa.

Americans are particularly important this year for southern France along the Mediterranean, whose beautiful coastlines have long been a haven for many wealthy Russian holidaymakers.

The Alpes-Maritimes department, home to sunny towns like Nice and Cannes, is expected to lose $50.4 million in 2022 due to the absence of Russian tourists who have descended on towns like Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat , according to a report released by the region’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry in March as it assessed the impact of the war in Ukraine.

But those negative forecasts did not materialize, the chamber of commerce said, acknowledging that “the summer season is looking pretty good.”

The unexpected turnaround was confirmed by local authorities and hoteliers on the ground on the Côte d’Azur.

“It’s true that there are fewer Russians for sure, but they have been replaced by all the others,” said Jean-François Dieterich, mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

The small town of less than 1,500 people has six of the 61 Russian properties frozen by the French government, according to the French finance ministry.

“It was quite surprising because we felt that a lack of Russian customers was going to have an impact on the hotel but in the end it was not the case”, declared Bruno Mercadal, manager of the Royal-Riviera hotel, a five-star establishment in Saint-Jean-Cap. – Ferrat.

“Revenge Journey”

The huge tourism losses predicted in the Alpes-Maritimes region have not materialized.

The huge tourism losses predicted in the Alpes-Maritimes region have not materialized.

Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou/CNN

Before the pandemic, Russian tourists made up 20-25% of the hotel’s clientele during the summer months, but this year all have disappeared due to sanctions imposed on Russia.

Mercadal recalled the chaos that erupted shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine – Russian guests staying at the hotel had to pay in cash as their credit cards became useless after their country was expelled from the SWIFT international payment system.

Now Americans are flocking to Mercadal’s hotel. Usually, American visitors make up about the same share of customers as Russians before the pandemic, but this year, for the month of June alone, the share of American customers jumped to 42%.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Mercadal said.

The war in Ukraine has also had an impact on exchange rates, causing the value of the euro to fall to its lowest level against the dollar since 2002, which means that traveling to Europe has become much cheaper for Americans. .

“What’s happening this year is this travel revenge,” Mercadal said, referring to the phenomenon of people splurging on big trips as a way to offset the Covid-enforced confinements of the past two years.

“It’s a good surprise and it compensates, in large part, for [for] the lack of Russian clientele,” he adds.

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