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Will deconfinement affect summer holidays in France?

More details have emerged on how summer holidays will be affected within France this year, after the Prime Minister first announced that they would be possible, but admitted that “many uncertainties” still exist.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe first suggested that the public “will be able to go on holiday within France” this summer, as he announced the government’s €18 billion support package for the sector: Le Plan Relance Tourisme.

In a live address on Thursday May 14, he said: “The French will be able to go on holiday in France in July and August, and will be able to take up their [holiday] bookings.”

Mr Philippe said that when he referred to “France”, this included both the mainland Hexagon, and overseas France.

Yet the PM admitted that there were “few certainties” on the issue, and that many of the deconfinement conditions were dependent on the ongoing health situation, and whether a so-called “second wave” of the epidemic becomes more serious.

Similarly, President Emmanuel Macron has remained cautious, and said that “major international travel” beyond France and Europe was likely to be limited.

Speaking in early May, President Macron said: “We will limit major international travel, even during the summer holidays. We will stay among Europeans, and we may need to reduce it even more. There are restrictions, and that is to be expected. We have not won the battle against the virus. It is still there, we have just slowed it down.”

What we know so far:

Travel within France will be allowed - but not everywhere

In an interview with newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD), junior tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said that summer 2020 will be “blue, white and red [the colours of the French flag]”.

The public is being encouraged to stay within mainland France, and at the very most to stay within the French overseas territories.

The current 100km restriction for travel within France - except for “imperative” work or family reasons - remains in place.

Mr Lemoyne suggested that holidaymakers should focus on “nearby tourism” within 100km of their homes, as natural and cultural spaces are beginning to “reopen in ‘green’ departments”. He also suggested that people should spread out “over the whole country” and not all flock to the coasts.

Yet, he did not rule out the idea of extending the 100km limit further, and said “the radius may expand outwards”, depending on the state of the epidemic.

Taking the train or car is encouraged

French train company SNCF is working hard to ensure a strong service across its network this summer. CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou told JDD: “We are preparing to make 100% of our trains available this summer.”

Tickets for TGV and Intercités trains over the summer months are now available to buy online.

The tickets will also include free cancellation or exchanges in case of future ‘reconfinement’. SNCF has also said that it is selling just 50% of its usual tickets, to ensure that people can physically distance themselves as much as possible on-board.

Read more: SNCF opens bookings for summer train travel in France

Junior tourism minister Mr Lemoyne said: “Technically, we are ready to run all of our trains - that’s 50,000 - over the summer period, which is considerable.”

But holidaymakers are also encouraged to take their own car where possible.

In contrast, travelling by air will still be very limited.

Mr Lemoyne said: “Air travellers will struggle, mainly because borders are still very likely to be closed”, however he admitted that it was “unavoidable” for travel to destinations such as Corsica or overseas France.

You can already book a hotel

The government is encouraging holidaymakers to make accommodation reservations from now on, as a means to help kickstart the economy of the sector.

Yet, Mr Philippe has sought to reassure the public that their holiday bookings would be refunded if - in the worst case scenario - they could not go ahead after all.

He said: “Everyone within tourism and hospitality is trying to make sure that people will be entirely refunded [for their bookings]” in case the progression of the epidemic means that new bookings are forced to be cancelled after all.”

Beach sunbathing is not likely

Although most beaches across France reopened over the first weekend of deconfinement - depending on the decision of local authorities - most of them are still only accessible for people doing exercise, and not for sunbathing or relaxing on the sand.

Individual activities such as running, walking or swimming will be allowed, but group sports or non-sporting activities will probably not.

This is likely to remain the case over the summer.

Mr Lemoyne said: “We are not going to be able to line up next to each other anymore. The way we use the beach is going to have to change for a while.”

For some very popular tourist beaches, some mayors have suggested that a reservation system could be introduced, to help limit numbers.

Antoine Parra, mayor of Argelès-sur-Mer (Pyrénées-Orientales, Occitanie), told news network BFMTV: “We are thinking about a digital reservation system, which would be free and open to everyone during peak times.”

Wide open spaces should be prioritised

The public is being encouraged to choose wide open spaces and breaks in nature as their destinations this year, to avoid large crowds at beaches and in coastal towns.

Didier Arino, director of independent tourism consultancy Protourisme, told news network Europe 1: “What we are seeing is really a desire [among the public] for space, in nature, with far fewer people. We are also seeing it among holiday housing rentals, and especially for houses that have a pool, which are much sought-after.”

Rural areas of France - such as Creuse (Nouvelle-Aquitaine), Lozère (Occitanie), below; and Nièvre (‎Bourgogne-Franche-Comté) - especially are preparing for a larger-than-normal influx of visitors, as their relatively low population density and open spaces make them ideal destinations for a population still attempting to stay “physically distanced”.

Read more: Rural France prepares for summer tourism post-Covid-19

The castle at Florac in Lozère, France, by the Cévennes National Park (Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0)


What is not yet clear:

If foreign travel will be allowed

While very long-haul journeys appear to be out of the question, the rules for travel within the Schengen Area and within Europe remain less clear. Travel within countries is still very restricted, and in some cases banned, between European countries. But this is set to change soon.

From June 15 - the health situation permitting - travel is set to reopen between France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria.

The EU is calling on its members to reopen their interior borders, to allow tourism to resume.

However, there is as yet no consensus, with Spain having recently announced that it will restrict all non-essential travel across its borders, and impose a 14-day quarantine on international arrivals.

Over the weekend, in contrast, Italy announced that it would reopen its borders from June 3, and would no longer require quarantine.

This prompted French interior minister Christophe Castaner to criticise the “unilateral decisions” made by certain European member states.

On Saturday May 16, he said: “The unilateral decision by Spain [and] Italy...does not make it easier for us to work in solidarity...It is essential that we have coordinated decisions on a European level, especially within the Schengen Area. That is not the case today.”

Similarly, confusion has emerged after the UK appeared to make a U-turn in policy over the weekend. After a joint statement initially said that arrivals to the UK from France - including second home owners - would not be required to self-quarantine, this has now been reversed.

In the latest update, all travellers from France - via air, ferry and train - will be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival to the UK.

Read more: U-turn: 14-day UK quarantine for arrivals from France

If it will be possible to go camping

Campsites have been closed since March 15, but many have now put in place a “health and safety protocol” to protect campers from the spread of the virus.

However, they must still remain closed. The government has issued no guidance on when or how they might reopen. This is also the case for holiday villages.

More information on this sector is expected to be announced at the end of May.

When and how restaurants and bars will reopen

So far, all bars and restaurants in France remain closed.

The government has said it is aiming to allow establishments to reopen - the health situation permitting - on June 2, in departments classed ‘green’. This is expected to be confirmed on May 25.

Social distancing measures will still need to be in place. Mr Lemoyne said: “Experts have said they would like at least one metre between [restaurant] tables.”

Yet, Mr Lemoyne acknowledged that this would be very difficult for businesses to impose.

As a result, the government is trying to encourage people to eat in restaurants by doubling the value of its restaurant vouchers (Tickets Restaurants) to €38, and allowing them to be used at the weekends and on holiday days until the end of 2020 (in contrast to the usual rules).

Related stories

French PM: ‘Public can holiday in France’ this summer

Rural France prepares for summer tourism post-Covid-19

Macron: ‘Too early to say’ if summer holidays possible

U-turn: 14-day UK quarantine for arrivals from France

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