French ski resorts face 'disaster' after Macron banned UK tourists

French ski resorts face ‘economic disaster’ after Macron banned UK tourists over Omicron fears

  • Emmanuel Macron has banned UK tourists entering France from tomorrow 
  • Ski resort owners, who rely on Brits for a large share of profits, reacted angrily
  • Christophe Lavaut, director of resorts in Val d’Isere, said Britons make up 42 per cent of customers and an even larger share of profits as they tend to spend lots
  • Macron says move is to stop Omicron, but it also comes amid tensions with UK 

French ski resort owners have told how they are facing ‘economic disaster’ after Emmanuel Macron decided to ban British tourists from entering the country. 

Macron said the move- which takes effect Saturday – will slow the spread of Omicron, but with the variant already widespread and making up a larger proportion of French cases than British, it appears to be more about politics than the pandemic.

It has also caused fury among resort owners, especially on the Alpine slopes of Val d’Isere who say British tourists make up the bulk of their customers and now face a battle for economic survival after their season last year was all-but cancelled.

Christophe Lavaut, director of Val d’Isere, said: ‘It’s an economic disaster. No business in any sector can make it, losing 42 per cent of its clients in two days.’

French ski resort owners have reacted with fury after Emmanuel Macron banned British tourists from coming, leaving them facing ‘economic disaster’ (pictured, Val Thorens in 2019)

Resort owners say they were relying on Britons to make up for lost revenue because they spent more than other visitor, but now face winter without them (pictured, Val Thorens this year)

Jean-Marc Silva, of the France Montagne association which represents all mountain resorts across the country, said Britons make up the single largest group of foreign visitors during a typical season – the last of which was in 2019.

During the 2018/19 season, 55million people visited France to ski – the highest figure of any country bar Austria – around 9 per cent of whom were British.

And, beyond the sheer number of Brits who visit, Mr Silva said UK customers are particularly cherished by resort owners because they tend to spend more.

‘Brits love the mountains and don’t really have that many in their country, so they’ve made the French mountains their own,’ Silva said. 

‘It’s not the same clientele as the French,’ Silva said. ‘The French visitor is here to ski. The British visitor will ski but he will also be the first at the after-ski activities. 

‘They have this pub culture. They spend more than others. They really make the most of being there.’ 

France has one of the world’s largest winter economies, with revenues from ski resorts approaching £1.3billion annually – with winter sports contributing another £2billion in related exports.

Around 80 per cent of those who visit France to go skiing travel to the Alps, where mountain tourism accounts for around 10 per cent of jobs.

With the country in near-total lockdown last winter and ski slopes shut, resort owners had been hoping for a bumper year in 2021 to make up for lost time.

But they now face the prospect of having to do that without some of the best-spending customers, and at a time when other European countries are going into full or partial lockdowns which is likely to hurt travel from elsewhere.  

Under the new rules, holiday travel from Britain is not allowed to France – unless you are French, your partner is French or you are a permanent resident there.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of British travel association ABTA, has also said move is ‘a hammer blow to the winter travel industry’.

In L’Alpe d’Huez, in the French Alps like Val d’Isere, British visitors account for a quarter of the clientele.

The head of the tourism office, Francois Badjily, said hopefully losses would be contained over Christmas, when the majority of clients are French.

‘But in January, when the French don’t go much on holidays, where we have a lot of foreign tourists, it will be a real hit,’ he said.

‘These are clients who spend more on average than others, who take ski lessons, who go to the restaurants, who go out a lot, so losing a quarter of visitors will be losing more than a quarter of our business.’

Meanwhile British families who were due to travel and whose trips are now grounded, also spoke of their fury.

Maxine Lane-Badenhop, 56 and from Surrey, had been poised to go skiing in France with her husband Henning and their two daughters, 14 and 15.

The family spent £3,800 on the trip – which is not lost but also cannot be recouped, only spent on another trip to France in the form of vouchers. 

Mrs Lane-Badenhop had managed to overcome the difficulties of getting the relevant passes for her daughters and even a health certificate for their dog.

France saw a near-total wipe-out of its skiing season last year wiped out as the country went into full lockdown and slopes were shut (pictured, Val d’Isere)

But their Eurotunnel trip was thrown into chaos by President Macron’s volte-face.

Mrs Lane-Badenhop told MailOnline: ‘This was a trip we had postponed from last Christmas for the same reasons.

‘We were all set to go, so it’s been very hard this morning to hear about the ban.

‘My husband works abroad so he was going to fly back tonight, we had paid for all the tests and everything we needed.

‘We are devastated, we were all looking forward to it as a family. We don’t know what we are going to do for Christmas now.

‘If France are shutting the borders to us, are they going to do the same to others in Europe?

‘I’m cynical, I don’t know, but is this a French and Britain thing about Brexit?

‘I think it just seems crazy with Omicron everywhere. I feel terrible for the resorts that are going to lose money too.’

Macron’s move also comes despite the European Centre for Disease Control – the EU’s top disease agency – saying that Omicron travel restrictions would only be effective until domestic spread took off, after which they should be dropped.

It also appears to fly in the face of policies in other EU countries which have so-far limited travel restrictions to southern African countries.

However, it does come against the backdrop of cross-Channel tensions over post-Brexit fishing licences and migrants.

Macron insist the ban is to stop the spread of Omicron, but critics insist is has more to do with cross-Channel politics than the pandemic

Queues for Trains at Eurostar at Kings Cross St Pancras station today

It also comes right before the French presidential election, due to take place in April, with Macron facing down a challenge from nationalist right-wing parties.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘Blanket country measures are a damaging backwards step and never work. Omicron is already in France and other EU countries.

‘Why should the millions boosted be treated the same way as those unvaccinated, and prevented from entry?’

Conservative MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke told MailOnline the French action was causing ‘unnecessary’ misery for travellers.

‘We have seen again France acting in a different way to other European countries. That is going to cause unnecessary disruption this Christmas time,’ she said.

‘We saw France do this last Christmas. It is obviously welcome they seem to be allowing haulage to travel… but clearly this is going to be difficult for passengers trying to return to their homes for Christmas or go abroad at this time of year.’

And spokesman for ferry operator Brittany Ferries said: ‘These new measures are a hammer blow to our Christmas season.’

The UK has far more cases than France of the virus and its new strain which is spreading fast

This chart shows the proportion of all cases that are Omicron (red) according to the latest genetic sequencing data on December 13. France sequences far fewer cases than the UK, but the super-mutant strain makes up a higher proportion of those they do sequence than in the UK. 

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