Some tourism personalities in France had sent a message to Emmanuel Macron before his visit to China. This letter was signed, in particular, by Augustin de Romanet (CEO of Aéroports de Paris), Sébastien Bazin (Accor), Nicolas Houzé (Galeries Lafayette) and Henri Giscard d’Estaing (Club Med).
90 flights linked France and China in 2019
They underlined that “no less than 90 weekly flights connected the two countries in 2019. These flights had enabled France to position itself as the main gateway to Europe. In 2019, the Chinese accounted for only 3% of stays in the country, but 7% of revenue (3.5 billion euros), according to Atout France.
A clientele that spends
If this clientele is particularly expected, it is also because it spends more than all the others. In hotels or shops, especially luxury, the shortfall is obvious, some department stores making more than 30% of their turnover thanks to Chinese customers. Ditto in Paris airports, where the Chinese spend nearly 10 times more than the Americans. And where they represented more than 32% of zero-rated sales before the crisis.
A long-awaited return
Their return is nevertheless hampered by several factors. In addition to the drip distribution of passports by the Chinese government, the number of flights between the two countries, far from having returned to its pre-Covid level, is beginning to cause some tension. We would witness a standoff between Paris and Beijing on the balance of air links. Some tourism players would see this brake as a defense of the interests of Air France to the detriment of their activities.
Air France and the State have reached an agreement
In fact, they accentuate the blocking of flights between France and China, by diverting in an absurd way the existing traffic agreements to protect the national company”, indignantly Philippe Villin, investment banker and owner-operator of the Libertel hotel group.
Air France would have liked to fly over Russia
“Air France demands that the return to normal for Chinese companies only take place when its aircraft can fly over Russian skies, thus postponing the recovery indefinitely. Isn’t this a “small arrangement between friends” of the same state caste, dramatic for the French economy? continues the hotelier.
The return of tourists from mainland China will be delayed
In three months, the number of flights between China and France should be only 18% of its pre-crisis level, according to the firm ForwardKeys. A figure that would reach 27% in Spain, 46% in Germany, and even 97% in Italy. In their letter of March 30, the four leaders called for “a relaxation of restrictions on Chinese airlines”, which impose reciprocity. And suggest “systematically reallocating” the rights of Chinese airlines and Air France until a return to normal. Philippe Villin, for his part, does not take off.
“How can the state sacrifice the livelihood of millions of employees and tens of thousands of companies to protect this former state monopoly that remains Air France? From my point of view, the State must force the company to urgently resume its flights with China at their 2019 level (even if the company has to charter planes), and authorize Chinese companies to fly to France as much as they want (until the end of the sanctions on Russia). If the State does nothing, it exposes itself to the vindictiveness of tourism professionals in the broad sense as well as to legal risks”, warns the hotelier.
Air France would take the opportunity to leave high fares
The main virtue, in the eyes of Air France, of this reduced offer is to ensure high prices and good profitability. But this assumes that Chinese companies cannot flood the market with additional flights. And therefore, that the 2017 agreement be reviewed in order to guarantee a better balance between the French and Chinese flags, as long as the Russian overflight ban lasts. This is what the French government would have said again last week, to the Chinese Minister of Commerce, who came to Paris to demand more flights. But this obviously does not suit the many sectors of tourism, commerce and leisure, which are impatiently awaiting the return of the Chinese tourist windfall. They asked the State to restore the level of air connectivity of 2019. Without success so far.
Article written with information published in Les Echos of April 26.