France’s Covid travel test rules are blocking recovery, says ski firm

UK tour company owner claims the possibility of testing positive and not being able to go on holiday is deterring bookings - or pushing customers to book other destinations

David Stewart’s tour operator runs a hotel in the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains ski resort
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A UK-based ski company is calling for an end to France’s pre-departure testing rules, arguing that they deter travellers from booking holidays and are a “roadblock to recovery” for the industry.

One of the firm’s owners says maintaining the test rule - despite the window being relaxed to 48 hours in advance of departure instead of 24 hours - is poorly thought-out and wrong as Covid figures are now considerably higher in France than the UK.

David Stewart, who co-owns a tour operator called Snowcoach which runs hotels in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains (Haute-Savoie) and Valmeinier (Savoie) would normally send around 200 clients to France each week in the winter season – but this year, weekly bookings have plummeted to around 30.

Several ski industry professionals have claimed that, since France relaxed travel restrictions requiring arrivals from the UK to present an essential reason for travel and quarantine on arrival, resort bookings are now exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

Read more: Bookings at French ski resorts exceed pre-pandemic levels

But Mr Stewart told The Connexion that for some, while “bookings might have increased from non-existent,” they are still “terrible” and attributes this to France’s testing rules.

“At this moment, France is the worst place to travel to,” in terms of Covid rules, Mr Stewart added.

Fully vaccinated travellers are required to present the negative result of a PCR or antigen test taken in the 48 hours before departure for France, although until last week the window had been only 24 hours.

Read more:France drops 24-hour Covid test for fully vaccinated UK travellers

Unvaccinated people cannot visit without an essential reason for travel, which does not include leisure trips.

Holidaymakers opting for other countries

“If you have to pay €4,000 or €5,000 for a holiday with the kids and worry until the day before about whether any of you will actually be able to go, why would you risk it?” Mr Stewart said.

He added that France’s decision to widen the testing window to 48 hours “helps a lot” as it means that holidaymakers who spend the day before departure travelling to ferry or train terminals do not have to find a way to get tested en route.

Some 60% of Mr Stewart’s clients travel to France by coach, and so allowing test results from the last 48 hours makes a significant difference to their being able to get tested in time.

However, he observed that other countries have removed testing completely, meaning that tourists may avoid travelling to France for their ski holidays when they can find a less stressful and expensive option elsewhere.

Countries which have now waived pre-departure test requirements include Austria – as long as the person in question received a booster dose within four months of their second – and Switzerland.

UK government data states that there are currently approximately 14,000 people in hospital with Covid, while across the Channel, government-approved information page CovidTracker reports that in France there are 33,000.

Similarly, while the UK’s infection rate sits at 893 cases per 100,000 people, France’s is currently 2,626 per 100,000.

‘Changes are needed now’

“The UK’s rates regarding cases and people in hospital are way below France,” Mr Stewart said, adding that maintaining testing rules despite these statistics “is a negligent failure of the government’s decision-making and reflects a serious lack of competence.”

“Do they understand what they are doing? Or do they even care? Our half-term family bookings remained about 75% down” on a normal year last week. “There is lots of interest but very few people are actually deciding to go.”

“This week we are sending around 30 clients to France instead of 200. The week after it will be about 50 at best.

“Half-term is close to being wrecked already, unless they drop the testing. Any further changes [to travel rules] are needed now and not in a few weeks time.”

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