Paris (CNN) – Summer is in full swing in Paris and the entrance to the Louvre is busy with vendors selling water or Eiffel Tower souvenirs. Among them, US tourist Chris Vockle is enjoying his first visit to France, taking a selfie with his girlfriend near the Glass Pyramid of the Art Museum.
“Paris definitely lived up to its reputation,” says Vockle, of Boston. “The food has been great. Everyone is very hospitable.”
For Walkley, the trip to France symbolized his life returning to normal after two years of restrictions and disruptions due to the pandemic. “I think things are back on track,” he adds with a smile.
For France, Walkley’s presence is a symbol of optimism.
He is just one of thousands of Americans expected to visit Paris this summer, bringing a widespread sense of relief to a tourism industry battered by Covid and the sanctions-induced loss of wealthy Russians who regularly visit its hotspots.
North America is projected to be the biggest contributor to the Parisian tourism market this summer, with booking levels almost back to pre-2019 levels, according to the city government.
“The Americans are doing this,” said Frédéric Hoqueard, Paris’s deputy mayor for tourism.
“That means they’re coming back together and with a lot of money to spend.”
They are back!
Jean-Francois Dieterich, mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, says the Russian tourists have been replaced by others.
Li-Lian Ahlskog Hau/CNN
Even outside of Paris, from north to south, tourist workers and government officials across France are delivering the same enthusiastic message — the Americans are back!
This was the front page headline of the famous French Riviera newspaper Nice Matin on July 6. “They are spending without counting after two years of restrictions,” he reports.
On average, American tourists, often visiting in groups, each spend $402 (400 euros) per day in France, bringing the budget to a staggering $7,687 for a 10-day visit, more than other foreign tourists, a report said. The research for Visa was done by the company GfK.
Americans are especially important this year in France south of the Mediterranean, whose beautiful beaches have long been a haven for many wealthy Russian vacationers.
The Alpes-Maritimes department, home to sun-kissed towns like Nice and Cannes, was projected to lose $50.4 million in 2022 due to the absence of Russian tourists landing in towns like Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. A report published in March by the area’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry as it assessed the impact of the war in Ukraine.
But it has failed to meet negative forecasts, the Chamber of Commerce said, adding that “the summer season is looking very good.”
The unexpected turnaround was confirmed by local officials and hotel owners on the ground in the French Riviera.
“It is true that there are certainly fewer Russians but they have been replaced by all the others,” said Jean-François Dieterich, mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
The small town of fewer than 1,500 residents has six of the 61 Russian-owned properties frozen by the French government, according to the French finance ministry.
“It was very surprising because we thought the lack of Russian customers would affect the hotel but in the end it didn’t,” said Bruno Mercadal, five-star venue manager at the Hotel Royal-Rivera, St-Jean-Cap. – Ferat.
The major losses of the tourism sector in the Alpes-Maritime region have failed to be predicted.
Li-Lian Ahlskog Hau/CNN
Before the pandemic, Russian tourists represented 20% to 25% of the hotel’s clientele during the summer months, but all have gone this year due to sanctions imposed on Russia.
Mercadal recalled the chaos that erupted immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine — Russian guests staying at hotels had to pay with cash because their credit cards were rendered useless after their country was kicked out of the SWIFT international payment system.
Now, Americans are flocking to Mercadal’s hotel. US visitors typically represent the same number of consumers as Russians before the pandemic, but this year the share of American guests rose to 42% in June alone.
“This is totally unbelievable,” Mercadal said.
The war in Ukraine has also affected exchange rates, sending the euro to its lowest level against the dollar since 2002, meaning travel to Europe has become much cheaper for Americans.
“What’s going on this year is the reciprocity of this travel,” Mercadal said, citing the phenomenon of scattered people on major trips as a way to compensate for the Covid-enforced sequestration of the past two years.
“It’s a nice surprise and it pays off big, [for] Lack of Russian customers,” he adds.