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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: PACA sent la fin de l’âge d’or

by Christophe Deroubaix

Published in l'Humanité on 14 May 2005

France: PACA Region Senses the End of the Golden Age in Tourism

Translated by Ann Drummond

Translated Sunday 7 May 2006, by Ann Drummond

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur [PACA] can no longer take its status as a top tourist destination for granted. Changing holiday patterns, international competition and tourists’ expectations are forcing the region to look to its cultural assets and its heritage as a means of attracting new clientele.

It’s not a storm warning quite yet. But the mistral wind of recession is threatening the world of tourism on the shores of the Mediterranean. Since its peak in 2001 (237 million person nights) the occupancy rate in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur [PACA] region has in fact continued to fall (232 million in 2002, 220 million in 2003). The most recent indicators on the 2004 winter season confirm this decline.

Accustomed to benefiting from the natural attractions of the sun and the sea, the main tourist region in France is increasingly losing out to other destinations in a world of hyper-competition. For lazing around, Tunisian and Spanish beaches offer a better quality-price ratio. And in the ’discovery’ category, Croatia and Morocco, for example, also offer lower tariffs. Besides, these countries seized the advantage by investing with a vengeance in this sector of the economy.

Everyone else’s fault? Not completely. There is no doubt that the main French tourist destination rested on its laurels of "hand-picked tourism", in the words of Jean-Marc Coppola, the president of the regional tourism committee of PACA. For a number of industry professionals, the attraction of a "nice little earner" from tourism masked the changes which were taking place. Spending the summer holidays on the Côte d’Azur is getting more like a financial assault course. The proof: more than half of the tourist population claims to be well-off. The result: there is less and less room for popular tourism between Nice and Cassis.

Another explanatory factor: the region appears to be undergoing changes in tourist habits to a greater extent than was anticipated. First change: "seasonality", that is to say the staggering of holidays throughout the year. The peak is traditionally 15 August, with 2.7 million tourists in the region on this date, but now half of all holidays take place outside the summer period.

Tourists’ expectations are changing. The coast still attracts 72% of tourists to the region, but the inland share (currently 23%) is steadily rising. And if the main objectives are still sun (27%), relaxing (20%) and the sea (20%), discovering a town or craft industries, and practising a sport are all making a place for themselves in the sun. In other words, in this new era of tourism, the region should rely as much on its 2,000 listed buildings, its historic monuments and its 400 museums as on its 3,000 hours of sunshine and its 900 kilometers of coastline.

Original French text on l’Humanité’s Website:

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