If you’re traveling in France, or in Europe in general this summer, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Why are flights so expensive? Why are there so many crowds? Why am I seeing a €400/night hostel bed listing? (True story.)
You might be wondering: Was it like this before the pandemic and I’ve just forgotten? Or have things really gotten this bad?
In 2019, France was the most-visited country in the world, with 90 million visitors, and 38.4 million in Paris alone, according to the Paris Visitors Bureau.
While the Paris Visitors Bureau had projected that international air arrivals in Paris for May, June, and July will be down this year by 33.9% (from 2019), early spring saw quick increases, with a 20% tourism increase above 2019 over the Easter weekend of April 15-18, 2022. It’s expected that all European markets, taken together, should exceed 2019 levels for the first time in July (+1.5%), marking a symbolic turning point for the tourism industry. The biggest gains are expected to be seen in Spain (+21.5%), Italy (+0.8%) and the United Kingdom (+7.7%), according to the Paris Visitors Bureau.
So how will France look compared to previous years? Paris peaked in 2018 with 40 million visitors, with a slight decrease in 2019. A major drop of 67.2% occurred in 2020, down to only 12.5 million visitors. Tourism rebounded slightly in 2021, with 19 million tourists, still only around half of what the city had seen pre-pandemic.
Projections for 2022 are optimistic, according to the Paris Visitors Bureau, with estimates of between 24.9 and 28 million visitors. But some of this is still up in the air. More people are booking last minute, perhaps just a few weeks in advance. Traditionally, it’s been suggested that international travelers book as far in advance as possible. Airlines generally list flights a year in advance, and they tend to increase in price over time. (Though Travel + Leisure suggests that three months out might be the sweet spot for booking flights.)
Rapidly shifting Covid protocols between countries and airlines have also shaken up the normal setup. Just last week, international travel was disrupted by President Biden’s announcement that a negative COVID-19 test would no longer be required to travel to the U.S. Though international travelers to the U.S. are still required to show proof of vaccination in order to travel, American tourists are now free to go abroad and come back without fear of a positive Covid test leaving them stranded, and potentially racking up an extra week’s worth of hotel fees. The announcement prompted an immediate bump in travel bookings, adding strain to an already short-staffed airline industry. As with many industries hit hardest by pandemic restrictions, airlines laid off much of their staff, and are now struggling to meet demand, causing mayhem in airports around the globe. Cancellations, delays, long lines, and lost luggage are plaguing airlines and passengers alike.
Americans also took advantage of their newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, to get out of town. Last Friday became the biggest travel day of the year so far, according to the TSA, with travelers taking advantage of the long weekend, and the double holiday on Sunday of Juneteenth and Father’s Day.
It’s also likely that more cautious travelers, who decided traveling in 2020 and 2021 was too risky, have gotten tired of waiting for their long-postponed vacation, contributing to the crush. Not to mention the Great Resignees who have quit their jobs to take some time traveling before returning to the labor market.
Even budget travelers may have noticed that their usual go-to options have gotten a little pricier. Last year saw a 35% increase in Airbnb prices, and they haven’t gone down much since then. This is partially due to people looking for larger spaces during their post-confinement vacations. But booking early could do you some favors, as could booking for longer periods of time. Discounts for stays of longer than 7 days can be helpful, but stays of longer than 28 days can incur significant discounts.
If you’re planning on traveling this year, consider booking in the shoulder season of September-October. Don’t leave bookings to the last minute, and get those flights and hotels booked ASAP. If you live in New York, LA, Miami, or San Francisco, consider flying a budget airline like Frenchbee (but keep an eye on how much baggage you’re allowed to bring with you). Consider traveling light, with only a carry-on, in order to avoid delays due to lost baggage or extra time in line for check-in. After all, do you really think you’ll get the chance to wear that fourth pair of shoes on your five-day vacation?
Perhaps you’ve had your eye set on Paris or the French Riviera, but you’re struggling to find bookings. Maybe rethink where you’re willing to travel. Other French cities like Lille, Lyon, Toulouse, and Montpellier are lovely in the summer, but draw fewer tourists.
Last but not least: if there’s anything you really want to see, whether it’s a guided tour, museum entry, or a particular restaurant, make your reservations now. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re watching groups of people getting turned away from your pre-booked seat inside.
Catherine Rickman is a writer and professional francophile who has lived in Paris, New York, and Berlin. She is currently road tripping around Europe, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.