Paris (CNN) — Summer is in full swing in Paris and the entrance plaza of the Louvre is bustling with vendors selling water or souvenirs from the Eiffel Tower. Among them, American tourist Chris Walkley enjoys his first visit to France and takes selfies with his girlfriend at the glass pyramid of the art museum.
“Paris certainly lived up to its reputation,” says Walkley of Boston. “The food has been great. Everyone has been very welcoming.”
For Walkley, traveling to France was a symbol of getting his life back on track after two years of restrictions and disruptions caused by the pandemic. “I feel like everything is back on track,” he adds with a smile.
For France, Walkley’s presence is a symbol of optimism.
He is just one of tens of thousands of Americans expected to visit Paris this summer, bringing a widespread sense of relief over a Covid-ridden tourist industry and the sanctions-induced loss of the wealthy Russians who regularly flock to the hot spots.
North America is expected to be the largest contributor to the Paris tourist market this summer, according to the city’s government, with booking levels nearly back to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
“The Americans do the work,” said Frédéric Hocquard, Paris’ deputy mayor for tourism.
“That means they come back en masse and have a lot of money to spend.”
The mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Jean-François Dieterich, says Russian tourists have been replaced by others.
Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou/CNN
Even outside Paris, from north to south, tourist workers and government officials across France are singing the same enthusiastic message: the Americans are back!
This was the front page headline of the Nice Matin, a prominent newspaper on the French Riviera, on July 6. “They spend without counting after two years of restrictions,” it reported.
On average, American tourists, usually in groups, spend $402 (400 euros) a day in France each, bringing the budget for a 10-day visit to a staggering $7,687, far above all other foreign tourists, according to a report done by research firm GfK for Visa.
The Americans are especially important this year to the south of France along the Mediterranean, whose beautiful coastlines have long been a haven for many wealthy Russian vacationers.
The Alpes-Maritime department, home to sun-kissed cities like Nice and Cannes, is projected to lose $50.4 million in 2022 due to the absence of the Russian tourists who have descended on cities like Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. . a report published in March by the region’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which evaluated the impact of the war in Ukraine.
But those negative predictions have not materialized, the Chamber of Commerce said, acknowledging that “the summer season is looking pretty 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 other people,” said Jean-François Dieterich, mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
According to the French Treasury Department, the small town of less than 1,500 has had six of the 61 properties owned by Russia frozen by the French government.
“It was quite surprising because we thought that a lack of Russian customers would have an impact on the hotel, but in the end it didn’t,” says Bruno Mercadal, manager of Hotel Royal-Riviera, a five-star location in Saint-Jean-Cap – Ferrat.
The predicted huge tourist losses in the Alpes-Maritime region have not materialized.
Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou/CNN
Before the pandemic, Russian tourists represented 20% to 25% of the hotel’s customers during the summer months, but this year they had all disappeared due to sanctions against Russia.
Mercadal recalled the chaos that erupted shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine – Russian guests staying at the hotel had to pay in cash as their credit card became unusable after their country was kicked out of the international SWIFT payment system.
Now Americans are flocking to Mercadal’s hotel. U.S. visitors usually represent roughly the same customer base as Russians before the pandemic, but this year in June alone, the proportion of U.S. guests rose to 42%.
“This is pretty incredible,” Mercadal said.
The war in Ukraine has also impacted exchange rates, pushing the euro’s value to its lowest level against the dollar since 2002, meaning travel to Europe has become a lot cheaper for Americans.
“What’s going on this year was this travel revenge,” Mercadal said, referring to the phenomenon of people spending big trips as a way to make up for the Covid-enforced sequestrations of the past two years.
“It’s a good surprise and it largely compensates, [for] the lack of Russian customers,” he adds.