The protracted coronavirus pandemic and now Western sanctions on Russia over a sting operation in Ukraine are keeping wealthy Russian tourists away from the French Riviera, one of their favorite foreign destinations among our wealthy compatriots in the pre-Covid period. According to AFP, the local tourism authorities realized that they could not wait for the Russians and quickly found a replacement for them.
According to the head of the local tourism committee, Francois de Canson, the pandemic has already led to an 80 percent reduction in the number of Russian tourists in the most prestigious region of France. We are talking about the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. After Paris, it was the second most popular French destination for Russian tourists. And it's also a historical place – guests from Russia have stayed here in “luxurious villas since the 19th century,” de Canson added.
Despite the fact that Russia is not the leader in terms of the number of tourists, however, until recently, the resorts of France could count on the fact that a limited number of Russians would continue to come to them, but they all belonged to the rich stratum of society who spent a lot of money on your vacation on the coast.
“It's not a huge amount. But there is a part of this market with big money who live on the coast and whose guests rent villas nearby, providing income for luxury hotel owners, yacht rental companies and private catering providers, explained Denis Zanon, CEO of the Nice Metropolitan Tourist Office.
French Riviera workers in these areas have already noticed changes. So, the publication told the story of Lea Combelonge, who worked as a private chef during a pandemic, but lost her rich Russian clients. They could be difficult customers, such as sometimes ordering caviar at the last minute, but they were also generous, she said. However, recovering the lost business was not very difficult, because “there are rich people everywhere.” Another private chef agreed and noted that “there is a lot of work.”
Replacing Russian tourists
The European Union blacklisted hundreds of Russian oligarchs and politicians after holding a referendum on the annexation of Crimea to Russia in 2014, and after the start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, this list has expanded significantly. However, against the background of global conflicts, many ordinary Russian families living in France did not leave, but remained on the coast, said the deputy director of tourism in Cannes, Thomas de Pariente. “You can still hear Russian speech on the Croisette,” he said, referring to the city's famous waterfront.
To compensate for the loss of Russian travelers, the tourism authorities have begun to work hard with wealthy clients from Qatar and the United States. It was they who helped tourism on the Riviera recover after the opening of borders, the official added. In addition, even before the start of the pandemic, the tourism sector was attracting new holidaymakers from Scandinavia and Canada.
Advertising campaigns have helped “limit the damage,” said Renaud Muselier, president of the region. “After the start of the military operation in Ukraine, we took up these communication campaigns and made significant efforts in relation to the tourist flow from the United States,” said de Canson.
There are currently three daily direct flights between Nice and New York. The Nice-Montreal flight has also opened.
According to CRT, bookings in the region increased by 21% at the end of April 2022 compared to the same pre-Covid period in 2019. So, in Cannes, high-end rental specialist Romain Benichou told the publication that for July-August in the 2022 season, “there is not a single free villa.”
Meanwhile, the villas, hastily sold by the Russians after the events of February 24 in Ukraine, found new owners almost immediately. Most of them were French themselves, explained Nicolas Dos Passos of the Albert Immobilier agency in Cannes.
Another sign that the rich are flooding into France's resorts again is that the yacht ports in the ports of Cannes and Marseille are full. The information was confirmed to the publication by the manager of the Liberty Yachts company, Fabrice Viard. “It looks like the 2022 season will be good,” concluded the travel expert.
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