PARIS — Empty terrace tables at Parisian cafes. Fewer sunbathers scattered along Italian and Spanish beaches: The global economic crisis has cast a dark cloud over Europe’s top tourist destinations.
France, the world’s tourism champion with 79.3 million visitors last year, has been hit hard by the drop in foreign travellers.
The number of international visitors in France has fallen by nearly one-third in the heat of summer — July and August — after sinking by 15.5 percent in the first five months of the year, government figures show.
Spain, which fell to third place among the world’s favourite tourist destinations last year, has suffered a 10 percent drop in visits this summer following an 11.4 percent fall in the first half of the year.
And Italy’s tourism industry is forecasting an 8.3 percent reduction in foreign visitors between May and October.
As frugal foreigners stay in their home countries, Europe’s top tourist destinations are looking at their compatriots to compensate for the drop in visitors.
According to a Gallup poll, 48 percent of Europeans plan to spend their holidays in their own countries this year, compared to 43 percent in 2008.
Britons, the continent’s top travellers next to Germans, have reduced their European trips by 10 percent amid a drop in the value of the pound.
As a result, the beaches of Spain, usually crowded with British and German tourists, are emptier than usual.
“It’s the worst summer that I have ever seen. There’s no one at the beach,” said Pedro Hervas, who sells drinks in Torremolinos on southern Spain’s Costa del Sol.
Spain already lost its spot as the world’s second most visited country last year, as the United States took its place with 58 million visitors compared to 57.3 million for the European country.
The Spanish government has released one billion euros to support the country’s tourism industry.
As in other European countries, tourists are drinking and eating less in Spain’s usually bustling bars and restaurants.
The consumption of beer is expected to fall by 13.5 percent in August compared to last year, according to Spanish brewers.
Tourists are also doling out less cash in neighbouring Portugal and Greece, where spending by foreign visitors has dropped by 13.2 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively, in the first half of the year.
Tourists have been more frugal on Italian beaches too.
“People rent a parasol, but they bring sandwiches,” said a spokesman for the union of Italian beach businesses.
There were 1.5 million fewer tourists on the beaches of Italy in June and July compared to last year.
Hit by a drop in demand, hotels have begun to cut their prices in Italy. In the second quarter, room rates fell by 8.3 percent on average, while three- and four-star hotels reduced their prices by nearly 30 percent.
Only Rome, the “Eternal City,” seems to have escaped the crisis. “Tourism is going well in Rome, but it is lower in Florence, Venice and the coast,” said the city’s deputy mayor in charge of tourism, Mauro Cutrufo.
Despite this summer of discontent, France should remain the world’s top tourist choice since travel is down in every country at “about the same rate,” said Christian Mantei, president of tourism development agency Atout France.
France depends less on summer tourism, Mantei said, adding: “We have visitors all year long in France.”