Skift Take

National park and rural authorities in France have absorbed lessons from domestic overtourism during the pandemic.

France’s national parks and countryside towns are implementing systems and strategies to manage the flow of traffic amid the summer travel boom.

During the pandemic, residents flocked to France’s parks and countryside, a megatrend Skift highlighted last year. Towns and villages like Etretat saw higher foot traffic than usual from Paris.

“During the past two years, there were tens of thousands of people coming, especially from the metro Paris region, to this small village which is tucked away between two cliffs, ” said Normandy Tourism Marketing Manager for English-Speaking Markets Ben Collier. 

With the surge came overcrowding, traffic congestion and overstuffed trash bins, impacting the quality of life of residents. “What the locals complained about were the people who came from Paris for the day who didn’t take care of the local community,” Collier said.

Last summer, overcrowding damaged some of the Calanques National Park’s flora and fauna, according to Marseille Tourism. Some areas are also experiencing soil erosion.

This year, local authorities have responded by implementing systems and strategies to limit foot traffic.  The Assembly of Corsica adopted daily quotas to protect the environments of its popular destination sites. Starting this month, Lavezzi Islands, Restonica Valley and Bavella Needles will have quotas. Visitors will have to make a reservation in advance, and residents will be given priority.

This summer, Calanques has limited the number of visitors to its Sugiton, one of the busiest areas of the park, to 500 visitors per day instead of the typical 3,000. In addition, the tourist office will redeploy trained seasonal workers in the park to redirect visitors to less-frequented places like it did last summer.

But quotas don’t make sense for all natural sites. Some can handle thousands of tourists per day, according to Julien Buot, director of Acting for Responsible Tourism (ATR), an association of sustainably minded tour operators.  What’s needed is better planning, especially for peak times. “The volume is not the only problem,” said Buot. “We as professionals in the private and public sector have to anticipate.”

The tourism board of Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region, one of France’s most popular tourist destination, partnered with the Waze navigation app to manage traffic flow during peak times at popular sites.

While overcrowding isn’t a problem this year, Normandy Tourism has learned from its pandemic experience. The organization is working with tour operators to guide tourists from Paris to avoid coming during peak seasons or travel to other areas to relieve the pressure on sites like Etretat. 

“What we’re trying to do, especially for the national markets like Paris and the French people, is to get people to come year around rather than the summer months or peak periods,” said Collier.  Normandy Tourism also aims to encourage tourists to not spend all day at Etretat and to go to explore other cities and areas in the region.

Tags: coronavirus recovery, France tourism, overtourism, rural tourism, tourism boards

Photo credit: Normandy, France Lauren Gence / Unsplash