France’s government and its main tourism associations announced that the sector saw a strong start to the summer season but there are signs that travel patterns are starting to be impacted by climate change.
In a joint press release by the French Ministry of Tourism, Atout France (France’s tourism development agency), and ADN Tourisme (the country’s association of tourism offices), data from polls and occupancy rates for hotels indicated that the northern parts of France — where temperatures have been cooler this summer— have increased while southern territories experiencing heatwaves have seen a drop in visitors.
Atout France described the geographical breakdown of tourists as “more balanced” compared to 2022 as northern regions are more attractive in 2023 and southern regions of France are seeing drops.
In the hotel sector, occupancy rates in the northwest have risen by 6% in June and July compared to last year. Meanwhile, the eastern Mediterranean region has seen occupancy rates drop 4% points and the western Mediterranean zone has seen a drop of 5%.
Overall, the hotel occupancy rate for the whole of mainland France reached 74% during the months of June and July — almost identical to that of 2022.
The organizations aren’t ready to declare that climate change is the main reason for these shifts. But the extended version of the study published by Atout France highlights the weather as one of the main likely culprits.
“We can also point to a possible meteorological impact on the choice of destination and period of stay. Indeed, the exceptional weather episodes of 2022 may have had an effect on the choice of vacation destination,” the study says. “It’s too early to draw conclusions. It will be possible to have a clear vision on this point, with confirmation or denial of these trends, at the end of the season.”
In the summer of 2022, France experienced record-high temperatures and historic wildfires. This current summer has already been one of the hottest on record with the national weather association issuing extreme heat warnings for the southern half of the country this week.
Bookings for the rest of the summer look solid. The number of nights booked for August and September is up 4% and 26% respectively. France hosts the Rugby World Cup starting in September which is expected to bring a surge of visitors.
Beyond the weather, the tourism groups said that other parts of the nation had made big strides in their marketing and tourism offers to lure visitors to often overlooked corners of the country.
La Tribune noted that historically, 80% of tourist activity is concentrated in 20% of the country. Amid concerns about over-tourism and climate change, the government has been supporting efforts to more evenly distribute those numbers.
Other concerns looming on the horizon: The release included a poll conducted with YouGov which indicated that 74% of French respondents cited inflation as a reason they limited domestic travel plans.
At the same time, international travel has increased enough to compensate. For instance, the number of Americans arriving by plane between July 1 and July 20 is up 5% compared to the same period in the pre-pandemic summer of 2019.
“As the months go by, France’s international appeal is confirmed and strengthened,” Caroline Leboucher, CEO of Atout France, said in a statement. “Domestic customers are in a transitional phase, with the return of international travel and an adaptation of practices to the inflationary context, climatic changes, and the desire for greater discovery of all territories in all seasons.”