River tourism, all at the helm



The valves are open. River tourism is today a cutting edge sector, a very popular way to discover France. It covers both cruise ships and small family boats that offer to navigate without a license on the canals. Before the Covid condemned the boats to remain at the quayside, it had attracted 11.3 million passengers in 2019. According to the French fluvial enterprises federation, the market has doubled in ten years, with growth of 5 to 7% per year. Voies navigables de France (VNF) notes the same trend. “It is a sector of the future which only asks to continue its expansion, insists Thierry Guimbaud, its managing director. Two thirds of the river tourism clientele come from abroad. The sector generates 1.4 billion euros in economic benefits, including 845 million locally, and employs 6,100 people. “

Two sectors play a driving role: “sightseeing boats” which have shown growth of + 29.2% since 2016 in Paris with riverboats (8 million passengers per year); “barges-hotels” growing by + 10.3% in 2019, locally draining substantial cash inflows in their wake. Lucas Schmitter, e-commerce director of CroisiEurope, European leader in the sector, explains the reasons for this enthusiasm: “You don’t have to open and close your suitcase every day. You always wake up somewhere else. You dock in the center of large cities. You cross magnificent landscapes at a very smooth speed. You have a room with a view of the water. ” Why is France attracting so much? “For the richness and diversity of its landscapes. “

The rise of this new form of tourism is extended by so-called “river” activities, a new word for walking and cycling, hiking, swimming and excursions around the water and on towpaths. Among the advantages drawn from this new form of leisure, the continuity of the maintenance of the canals and the safeguarding operations, such as the reconstitution of the tree-lined vault of the Canal du Midi, destroyed by the disease of the 40,000 plane trees which border it, felled down. and gradually replanted. Thierry Guimbaud, CEO of VNF, comments, lyrically: “It’s the restoration of the Sistine Chapel! “

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