The tourism industry in Normandy is facing a tough year with some officials describing the start of the year as a catastrophy due to the weather and the poor economic outlook in France and the rest of Europe.
Tourism is an important industry throughout the region directly employing tens of thousands and ten of thousands of small businesses relying on visitors for their income. Withb France in recession for the second time and the economic outlook poor in countries such as the UK and Spain, there are concerns that visitors numbers will be down again in 2013.
This could have an adverse effect on jobs in a region where there are a high number of part time posts in the tourism industry. In the Manche, for example, tourism accounts for some 10,000 jobs at a time when unemployment is rising, and officials are warning that economies will need to be made.
The annual meeting of tourism offices in Manche held recently was a sombre affair. Jean-Yves Bodin, president of the union that represents 56 offices, described the situation as alarming. â€˜The start of the season has been catastrophic because of the weather and the economic outlook. It is a worry as tourism is the third most important economic industry in Manche,â€™ he told the meeting.
The slow start to the season comes on top of a poor season in 2012, particularly for Manche which saw reduced visitor numbers at its top attraction, Mont Saint Michel due to bad weather and changes to the parking and entry fees. The 2011 season was also poorer than previous years.
Mr Bodin said that the industry must adapt and it is likely that tourism offices will be amalgamated to reduce costs. He could not rule out some being closed.
For next year a number of tourism offices will work together. Asked what this will mean he said that not all would be open at the same time. â€˜For example, in the Granville area six offices and five collectives will work together to develop a common strategy to become more efficient,â€™ he explained.
The poor season is not affecting all tourism outlets to the same degree. In Normandy as a whole there was a fall in the number of people staying at campsites and hotels, but overall more people booked Gites which are generally cheaper for a weeks stay than a hotel.
Campsites were the hardest hit with the number of nights falling below three million for the first time since 2005.
Hotels also saw fewer bookings, with the number of foreign bookings down 2% and the number of French staying in hotels down 0.6% compared with 2011. Foreign Gite bookings were also down with a fall of 2.1% but more French people stayed in Gites with a rise of 5%.
The figures suggest that British, Dutch and Spanish visitors deserted Normandy last year with a 12.6%, 15.9% and 16.7% fall in visitor numbers in 2012 respectively. Swiss visitors were down 13.6%, Belgians down 5.1% and Italians down 3%. But Germans remained largely loyal with visitor numbers down just 0.7%. In contrast, the number of Japanese and American visitors increased. Visitors from across the Atlantic were up 6.4% and there was a surge in visitors from Japan, up 35.8%.
As with the previous two years those working in the tourism industry are hoping that the poor start to the season will be boosted by last minute bookings.
â€˜Occupancy rates fell by 20% in April and the downturn isnâ€™t easing. The consequences of the bad weather affect the whole of the tourism sector. Employers are reluctant to hire and people are not booking ahead,â€™ said Carole Aparicio, a member of the Association of Independent Professionals in the Hospitality Industry (APIIH).
Tourist attractions that are outside have seen a steep drop in visitors. At the Pentecost bank holiday in May Festyland in Caen had 1,500 visitors compared with 4,000 for the same weekend in 2012. The Beauregard Adventure park at HÃ©rouville-Saint-Clair didnâ€™t have a single visitor on the Sunday and the Monday of the bank holiday weekend. â€˜When the weather is good we can have 300 people a day. In May we are down 80%,â€™ said manager Guillaume TrÃ©bouet.
In Upper Normandy tourism officials are hoping that the Armanda Festival in Rouen which gets underway next week will draw in visitors. It is also hoped that the Normandy Impressionism festival which has major exhibitions in Rouen, Le Havre, and Caen and lots of other events across the whole of Normandy will bring in extra visitors.