In France, the state of the travel industry in 2020/21 is a complicated affair.
After experiencing two nationwide lockdowns in May 2020 (55 days) and October 2020 (45 days), the French government put in place a strict national nighttime curfew since December 2020. From February 2021, new rules banning flights to and from countries outside the E.U came into force restricting travel once again to urgent personal or family business, a health emergency or work-related voyages.
While all of this may feel disheartening, and means travelers are likely grounded through much of the first semester of 2021, there are hopes for recovery across the travel industry heading into the summer months if the vaccine can be widely administrated and the number of cases begins to trend downward this spring. Although nobody knows exactly what will happen, one thing is clear: the long-lasting effects of a global pandemic will affect the way French people will travel …at least for the foreseeable future.
Even amidst a crisis, current data can give us helpful insights into how the French people feel about travelling at home and abroad, and how we in the tourism industry can best support and reassure tourists as we head into a new era of travel.
Our boutique travel and lifestyle agency spotlights our PR agency partner, Lesley Joan Williamson, chief executive officer, Lesley Joan Williamson PR & Communications based in France, and her insights as it pertains to the French travel market.
1. The French are craving vacations more than ever
French people usually enjoy five weeks of paid vacations annually and in 2020, they spent a total of 2400 hours in lockdown fantasizing and daydreaming about holidays. The frustration is real. According to a survey* conducted by Yougov for the French Home Exchange in February 2021, not being able to plan vacations at the moment is morally one of the hardest things for 36 percent of the French.
A trend confirmed by people over 55 years old, who are 60 percent to feel this way. The most difficult thing for the French people surveyed still remains not spending time with their family and friends (53 percent). Everything related to leisure time is rather upseting. Not being able to go to a bar or restaurant is a heartbreak for 41 percent of them, not being able to move around freely on a daily basis is also among the most difficult things (37 percent) in the current health crisis.
As seen in 2020 as soon as the First Minister’s speech lifted travel restrictions, the French were on the hunt for places to go for a breath of fresh air. A crave to travel and get away from it all yes, but also a strong awareness to reduce their COVID-19 exposure. After a year with a lot of time spent at home on video calls or binge-watching TV, the French will not give up on their vacations despite of Covid19. But in the context of the current crisis, they will be slightly different again this year….
2. New hopes for the summer
Vacation plans until May are now being put off. According to the Home Exchange study, 58 percent will not travel during the spring vacations because of the uncertainty of governmental regulations and health concerns for half of them. Most are already focused on summer.
According to an online survey conducted by Abritel** this time, 19 percent of French families plan their first vacation of the year in France between April and June 2021. For 45 percent of French families, their first vacation of the year in France will occur between July and September. Only 13 percent of families do not see themselves going on vacation in France before 2022. Overall, 68 percent of families are confident that they will travel on a family vacation in 2021, even though 34 percent of these same families say they are confident while remaining cautious, again according to the Abritel study.
3. Hopes that the vaccine will gradually change the situation
If Covid19 has settled in our lives for a year now, hindering all travel plans, there are hopes in the travel industry that the situation will gradually evolve with the deployment of vaccination campaigns. According to the study conducted by Abritel, 41 percent of French families say the announcement of a vaccine positively impacted their decision to plan a vacation in 2021.
Indeed, 22 percent of French families felt reassured by the upcoming vaccination. In fact, 19 percent immediately began researching future trips after the vaccine was announced. However, 31 percent indicated that they were still reluctant to schedule vacations because of persistent uncertainties (lockdowns, travel restrictions, etc.). 17 percent said the announcement of a vaccine had no effect on them because they did not trust it.
In the short period of time the French were able to travel in 2020 (June until September), domestic travel spiked in relation to the COVID-19 crisis. Different factors explain this trend: the government encouraging domestic travel in the short term to help boost France’s economy, concerns about quarantine measures, uncertainty over the financial future of the travel companies that people book with, a loss of confidence in the travel industry and fears of traveling far from home for sanitary reasons.
5. International Tourism: not before 2022?
Covid19’s travel restrictions have drawn new maps for French travelers who are being more strategic about where they venture out. For those fortunate to travel internationally, we have seen a huge increase of interest in far-flung French islands such as La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, Tahiti or the Caribbean Martinique and Guadeloupe ( + 100 000 pax in December 2020) which has led to a closure of borders for non-essential travel in February 2021. An increasing interest in less traveled destinations with no travel ban has also emerged for countries like Kenya, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico for a few privileged travelers.
For tourism professionals, restoring safety and confidence is the main challenge. 34 percent of French travelers closely follow data and information on the progress of vaccination in each country, to get an idea of the situation on the ground. Almost as many (31 percent of families) want a clear and realistic timeline from the government on potential travel restrictions and/or where it is/will be possible to leave from. 27 percent of respondents say that they expect above all flexible cancellation policies from tourism operators to organize their vacations with confidence.
As for going abroad again, French families are more cautious as only 27 percent consider traveling between July and September. According to the Abritel study, 27 percent anticipate it will not be possible to leave the country before 2022. Figures once again predict the perspective of a French staycation summer like 2020 while people are waiting for a real visibility on international travel.
If vaccination against Covid-19 is a condition to travel to certain destinations, 45 percent of families said they would be willing to do so either because they intend to be vaccinated anyway (24 percent) or because they want to do so to be allowed to travel (21 percent). However, 22 percent of families are still waiting and prefer to see how it goes for others before taking a decision. Finally, some refuse the idea of a mandatory vaccination for travel (10 percent), even if it means having to choose another destination.
*Study carried out among 1032 people representative of the French population (18+) via an online survey conducted on French territory from February 9 to 10, 2021.
**The online survey was carried out by Atomik Research among 1503 parents (18+) in France from 15 to 19 January 2021 who have children up to the age of 15 and who have travelled as a family over the last five years.
By Lesley Joan Williamson, chief executive officer, Lesley Joan Williamson PR & Communications, based in France and Allen Marketing Communications, Inc's partner agency