The likely defection of Russian tourists this summer is clouding the prospects of tourism professionals in the South of France, whose activity is still recovering from the pandemic. An emblematic snapshot of the after-effects of Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
NICE — “Barring a world war, the summer is looking pretty good. We already have a lot of reservations from Americans and Canadians...”
Michel Tschann, owner of the Splendid Hotel in Nice and honorary president of the French Riviera hoteliers’ union, is trying to make the best of a bad situation. The outbreak of the war in Ukraine is likely to darken the skies for the local professionals, whose business was just starting up again after successive COVID-19 shutdowns.
Tourism from Russia and Ukraine had indeed been a godsend which, in the coming months, has every chance of vanishing just as fast. According to the regional tourism committee, the share of Russians and nationals of several republics of the former USSR, including Ukraine, amounted to 6% of foreign visitors to hotels and residences along the French Riviera in 2019. The figure peaked at 9% in 2012 but has since fallen due to the sharp decline in the ruble, which decreases the purchasing power of Russians in the euro zone.
A yacht economy
The Tourist board estimated the volume of stays of Russians alone at 190,000 in 2019, including 83,000 arrivals by plane. They come mainly in summer, with a presence limited to the coast, Nice and the Riviera (Monaco, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat) but also the Cap d’Antibes and Cannes, where this clientele appreciates the posh establishments of the Croisette such as Martinez or the Carlton. In total, the French Riviera accounts for one-fifth of the nights spent in hotels by Russians in France.
The loss in yachting may be the hardest blow to the economy
In another sector, that of yachting, the probable defection of Russians in the coming months is an even harder blow. “In the lowest segment of the market, it won’t matter much, but the more you go up in size [of yachts], the more the Russians count,” notes Thierry Voisin, president of the European Committee for Professional Yachting and a broker in the port of Nice. In the segment of 50 to 60-meter vessels and above, which sometimes carry up to 70 crew members, Russians represent up to 25% of the market.
The impact in terms of turnover concerns the entire industry: brokers, who rent, sell or manage boats and whose main representatives are located in Monaco, but also shipyards, this time more concentrated in the Var and Bouches-du-Rhône. It was in La Ciotat that the first Russian yacht, owned by a company linked to the oil group Rosneft, was seized on March 3.
The real estate sector will likely not be spared by the Ukrainian conflict either. Estimates are that more than one thousand second homes are owned by Russians in the region today. This rapidly growing figure has fueled price increases, again mainly in the highest luxury sector.
Air traffic, on the other hand, should not suffer too much from the Russian absence. With its two airports in Nice and Cannes, the "Airports of the French Riviera" (Aéroports de la Côte d’Azur) group is the second largest business aviation hub in France and Europe.
“But whether in commercial or general aviation, traffic with Russia, in terms of movements and number of passengers, makes up less than 1% of the total,” comments a spokesman for the group. The direct Nice-Kiev and Nice-Moscow routes are currently closed. Those planned for the summer with Lviv and St. Petersburg will probably not open.
Right now, no Russian jet is currently parked on the tarmac of Nice airport. The only plane present recently, the Boeing 737 belonging to the oligarch Roman Abramovich, left the Bay of Angels on the first day of the war...
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