Destination France: 2011 Recovery from 2010 Volcanic Eruptions and Pension Reform Strikes

By | August 3, 2011

plane taking off from Nice Airport - Nice, France

I’m starting my last couple of weeks here in Nice, France and I’ve been thinking about the booming tourism industry for Americans here in Europe, particularly in the south of France. 2010 was undoubtedly a difficult year for the travel industry in Europe. The volcanic eruptions from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull last April put a damper on the travel plans of many when strong winds pushed ash clouds from the eruption toward Europe causing the largest shutdown of European air space since WWII. Following the eruption, many travelers were weary of traveling to European destinations, due to the possibility of volcanic ash causing delayed or canceled flights.

For some however, the volcanic eruption was a boon for business, namely the Icelandic tourism industry. It seems like everyone wanted to climb up to the crater of the volcano that caused their travel troubles. In the short term, the eruptions destroyed the critically important tourism industry in Iceland, but not long after the most violent eruptions stopped however, tourists were flocking to Iceland in droves to see the famous volcano. So far, in the first half of 2011, Iceland has already seen a record-high 206,000 tourists (over 20% more than last year).

On the other hand, France’s tourism industry got crushed last year due to the volcanic eruptions in the spring and the pension reform strikes in the fall that affected most of the transportation systems in France, including airlines and trains. After the eruptions in April last year, France’s Secretary of State for Tourism announced that because of the ash cloud over Europe, French airlines, tour operators, and travel agencies lost roughly US$346 million! Looking at the chart below, it’s a pretty safe bet that the spikes in traffic to Air France’s US website in April and October 2010 weren’t from hopeful American tourists looking to buy airfare, but rather people looking for information about canceled flights and how to ask for refunded tickets.

unique visitors to air france us

The good news is that we can also see from the chart above that so far, there has been a much different trend this summer leading into peak tourist season (June-September in France). Considering that according to Compete demographic data for AirFrance.us for June 2011 suggests that 42% of the site’s visitors fell into the $100k+ income bracket, the increase in interest to Air France’s American website should be great news for tourist-supported businesses in France.

Were you traveling in Europe last year? Were you affected by the cloud of volcanic ash or by the pension reform strikes in France? Tell us your story in the comments!

Until next time, au revoir from France!

au revoir from France!

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