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Tourism reversal in France: southerners head north to cool off

We look at problem of ‘over-touristed’ areas and what is being done to help

Mont-Saint-Michel encourages people to visit at off-peak times by reducing parking fees Pic: LightField Studios / Shutterstock

Concern about ‘overtourism’ in popular French destinations means a new trend is emerging: tourists seeking out northern resorts for cooler weather.

As temperatures soared to 39C in July in some southern areas, and with ‘felt’ temperatures often several degrees hotter depending on wind or humidity, many tourists are opting for more bearable conditions in regions such as Hauts-de-France.

App shows busy areas to avoid

The Somme council in Hauts-de-France, for example, has reported many more Parisians since the Covid period but also now “people from the south” coming due to climate change.

The Baie de Somme estuary, known for its birdlife, now attracts some 10 million visitors a year. 

The regional tourism committee is seeking ways to help people plan their visits, such as an app to show ‘saturated’ areas. It is focused on protecting wildlife and helping visitors “savour nature” in quieter periods.

Read more: France overtourism: five alternatives to the most popular destinations

Parisians head to Normandy

Further north on the Channel coast, Emilie Douhi, tourism spokeswoman for the Dunkirk area, said: “It’s true that some of the people who used to go down to the south – for example, Pari­sians or people from the east of France – are now are coming more to us because it’s less crowded and not as hot.” 

Holiday letting firm Abritel has also confirmed “a strong interest for regions not known for their high temperatures”. Bookings for holidays on the north-west coast are up 25% on last year. 

Pap.fr reports bookings up 15% in Brittany and Loire-Atlantique, but down 21% on the Riviera.

Bordeaux is said to be becoming more like the Riviera each year, with 60 visits from giant cruise liners in 2023, up from 43 in 2019.

‘We cannot control social media influencers’

Meanwhile, the Minister of Tourism has launched plans to curtail excessive peaks of mass tourism at popular periods and places.

The need to manage the ‘flow’ of tourists is in part due to their impact on the environment and on water use.

The plans include a publicity campaign to encourage people to go “off the beaten track” and to take holidays all year round, recruiting help from influencers and promoting French tour itineraries based on ‘alternative’ destinations.

Jean Pinard, the director of Tourisme Occitanie, said: “We can’t control communication like we did before influencers and social networks. 

“If there are posts about a pretty little lake with a picnic space, and it’s not a known tourist site, 500 people can turn up the next day.”

Read more: Planning a holiday? See an adventure close to home in France

Pre-booking and off-peak incentives can help manage numbers

He did not think ‘overtourism’ was a significant issue in his area. Resorts just have to be well prepared and have the right infrastructure, he said.

For example, at Cirque de Gavarni, near the Spanish border, visitors must now park further away and a bus service will be put in place. 

However, he said it could be worth looking at staggering school summer holidays by geographical zones.

A free reservation system has been renewed this year at the Calanque de Sugiton creek in Bouches-du-Rhône. 

Mont-Saint-Michel, meanwhile, aims to encourage people to come at off-peak times, by halving parking fees in low season and making evening parking free, outside of July and August.

Mr Pinard said it is important to avoid “tourist bashing” and there can be “intolerance on the part of people whose territories live from tourism and are happy with the wealth it creates, but don’t want inconveniences that go along with it”, such as traffic or having to book to visit restaurants.

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