France’s tourism needs “at least two years” to reach pre-pandemic level: official

France, one of the world’s top tourist destinations, may have to wait at least two years before tourism and leisure businesses recover from a global standstill triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Corinne Menegaux, director of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Xinhua on Friday.

“It is difficult to know when the sector will find its dynamism again” as long as the COVID-19 infections continue to spread through the globe and a new wave of coronavirus cannot be excluded when restrictions are lifted, Meneguax said.

“I think to return to normal activity, (the tourism sector) needs at least two years. It will take several years to reach a pre-coronavirus level. Maybe we will never come back to this level or not in the same way. No one can know today,” she said.

The head of the Paris tourism office expected the international air traffic to resume “significantly” in one year and then leisure tourism would recover rapidly as “people are eager to travel,” although it would depend on decisions related to vaccines and tests.

For business tourism, it would probably take a little longer to recover, depending on the reopening calendar of events, she added.

To halt the spread of the coronavirus, the French government imposed an unprecedented nationwide lockdown on the 67 million inhabitants in mid-March and a less harsh one in November last year.

Half of the country’s hotels stayed open with occupancy rates below 20 percent, compared to an average of 75 percent in previous years, noted Menegaux.

France, which receives some 90 million foreign tourists in a normal year, lost two-thirds of tourist arrivals in 2020. The tourism revenue dropped to 89 billion euros (107 billion U.S. dollars), down by 41 percent from 2019.

Paris, one of the world’s most visited cities, only received 12 million tourists, sharply down from 38 million a year earlier. The pandemic forced the city to close its main tourist magnets, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, and turned its vibrant streets into ghost zones.

“Can we have a performance of tourism sector as before the pandemic? No, we have to be realistic,” Menegaux said. “Unfortunately, this year’s activity will be like that in 2020.”

As coronavirus infections continued at home and abroad, restrictions were still enforced in the first months of 2021, hitting recovery prospects for the tourism industry.

Hoping that a combined impact of lockdown along with an accelerated vaccination campaign would contain virus resurgence, President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday announced a plan to reopen indoor venues and allow foreign tourists with “health pass” to enter the country by June.

“This is good news,” said Menegaux. “We hope that a possible opening of Europe and the return of the vaccinated American tourists will allow more visitors in and create some dynamism.”

The tourism industry, which had recorded sustained growth for several years before the pandemic, accounts for around eight percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and creates about 2 million direct and indirect jobs.