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France tourist numbers hit a record

...but expat holiday rentals feel pinch

Tourism bounced back in France in 2017 with visitor numbers up 5.6% to hit a record 429 million nuitées (overnight stays) and 89m foreign visitors, new figures show.

But while hotels fared well after being badly hit by the 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks, smaller British-run gîtes and holiday rentals are reporting a poorer year this year with advance bookings greatly reduced.

Looking at France overall in 2017, summer and winter seasons showed an increase with a 23m rise in overnight stays. Ski stations reported average figures up 1.3% (4.7% in the Pyrenees).

Total visitor stays in hotels were up 4.9% and there was little sign of a Brexit sterling/euro effect as, despite numbers down 3.4%, Britons remained the No1 non-French market with 10.8m nights.

Laurent Duc, president of the hotels section of industry federation UMIH, said he actually believed more Britons were coming to France. “It is like the yog­hurt date label; Britons are coming to France before the Brexit date as they do not know if it will be as good afterwards and if they will be able to travel as easily.”

While hotels were recovering, he said tourism was being dented by the “lamentable” image that the current rash of strikes was giving. “People are making decisions now on summer holidays and they are not going to come if they fear problems. In hotels, we are also suffering from unfair competition from Airbnb, which is still not being properly regulated, and that affects all levels of the industry, from chambres d’hôtes up.”

National statistics agency Insee said that, overall, visitors in 2017 were up 5.6% and foreign stays 6.8%. French residents were by far the largest group at 134.2m.
Insee said the drop in British visitors may be due to them using ‘alternative accom­modation providers’ or staying with family or friends. But it may have been the start of a bookings collapse as holiday rental owners who contacted Connexion about 2018 bookings said they were, in most cases, down.

Lot reader Gaynor Bannister said she has rented out a cottage for 16 weeks a year for the past nine years and had generally been fully booked by the end of March... this year she has just six weeks booked despite five-star reviews. Even a 20% price cut had made no difference.
Many readers and owners are in the same position – although some report solid bookings – and from speaking to owners and booking agencies, it seems several problems have hit at once, plus Brexit and the fall in the pound.

Tim Parkes, of Simply Owners agency, pointed out that many owners using online sites, were no longer as visible as they used to be. “Owners Direct had about 70,000 properties on its site 18 months ago but now has 750,000 since it was sold to Expedia [where it is now part of HomeAway].”

A key feature, which many owners admitted, was that their main business comes from UK clients and “fears they cannot afford a holiday”, “so many B&Bs now open by Brits in France” and “ferry prices becoming unaffordable” means less trade. Airbnb was also mentioned, but it has a different market, and it says it has seen a continuing rise in British visitor numbers, who are its No3 clients.

News of the rail strikes – and fears of a spread – also had an effect. Gayle Roberts, of Nice Pebbles holiday rental firm, said: “Numbers collapsed once strikes were announced – down 70%. “No one wants to book if there will be an air control strike. That’s where hotels may gain as they may have on-site facilities and also easier cancellation policies.”

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