France hotel stays tumble amid 'yellow vest' unrest

Paris (AFP) –


The number of overnight stays in hotels in France slumped in the first quarter, especially in Paris, the national statistics office said Thursday, blaming the nationwide "yellow vest" protest movement for putting off foreign tourists.

In the first three months of 2019, the number of overnight stays in tourist accommodations in France fell 2.5 percent from the same period the year earlier, statistics office INSEE said.

Visits by foreigners fell the most dramatically, with 4.8 percent fewer overnight stays by non-residents recorded in the period.

The Ile-de-France region which encompasses Paris posted the sharpest declines, with the number of overnight stays dropping 4.6 percent.

This was "probably due to the movement of the yellow vests," Insee said.

Since November last year, protesters wearing their high-visibility yellow vests have staged angry protests accusing President Emmanuel Macron and his government of failing to solve France's inequality problems.

The biggest demonstrations have been in Paris but there have also been protests in other big cities.

Usually held on Saturdays, the rallies have often degenerated into fiery clashes between demonstrators and police, with dramatic images beamed around the world.

Insee said by contrast that hotel occupancy increased almost five percent in coastal areas as French residents took advantage of dry and warm weather since the beginning of the year.

It noted that the overall decline in hotel occupancy in the first quarter "followed more than two years of steady growth" and a 2.0 percent year-on-year rise in the previous quarter.

France, which boasts not just the magnificent historic centre of Paris but also countless other attractions nationwide, is visited by more foreign tourists annually than any other nation.

The number of foreign tourists visiting annually has been approaching 90 million in recent years, despite a spate of attacks carried out by Islamist militants.

But the effects of the yellow vest movement on tourism had already been seen in the final months of 2018.

Another blow came from last month's devastating fire at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, which is expected to keep the world heritage landmark and tourism magnet closed to visitors for several years.