It looked like a Christmas miracle for France’s ski resorts. There were full-booked flights from Britain and ferries to France.
The French government issued a warning last Thursday about a “landslide”, but not on its mountains, but rather the Omicron coronavirus variant that is sweeping through the UK.
All travel outside of Britain was to be prohibited. Then, suddenly, cancellations overtook arrivals.
Thomas Mathieu, owner of Brasserie les Marmottons says he feels sad, disappointed, and angry. He also mentions that he had to fire three employees because of the decline in business.
“Everything is prepared here: We put on masks, have the [vaccination] passes and everything is right by our government. He adds that it is very confusing for them.
Before the pandemic, one in four Chamonix tourists was British. The largest foreign group of tourists to France’s resorts is made up of Britons.
France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex, however, has compared Omicron with “lightning”. His government seems willing to take the hits and accelerate its booster programme.
Chamonix ski lifts
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Many UK holiday to Chamonix’s slopes had to be cancelled
Some people from the UK arrived right before Friday’s drawbridge opened. They counted their luck, just like businesses counting their losses.
Hugh Kocheta just skied down from 2,100m – there were so few Brits on the slopes. He says, “We are missing a few people who were supposed to be here but who are likely just not going to make it out now.” It’s clearly a bit heartbreaking for some people.
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Alison Hands was driving down from Calais with her family when they heard the news. Moss, eight years old, says that being here makes Christmas feel normal again. He adds that he has been to every Christmas since he was born.
This is the fear: the ban on British tourists triggers a disturbing deja-vu of Christmas last year, when there were strict lockdowns. The emptiness of the British market is a devastating sign that more could be coming for those who cater to it.
Dave Searle, British Association of Mountain Guides Chamonix
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Dave Searle of British Association of Mountain Guides Chamonix states that he is concerned about the future winter season.
Dave Searle is a British Association of Mountain Guides Chamonix member, and cancellations have been flooding in.
“If this goes on, it will be a huge loss of earnings… as much as 50% of my annual earnings are through winter.” It’s going to continue doing this every winter, I think. If I lose half of my annual earnings, it’s time to look for a new job.
Do you think he is able to understand the French decision?
He replies, “It makes sense in certain ways. It’s all about keeping people alive and hospitals empty.” “But it may also feel a bit of an instinctive reaction to single out one country.”
France has fewer Omicron cases than the UK. However, French scientists are far more adept at genetic sequencing new variants than their British counterparts. The intensive care units in France are again full.
The Christmas lights are not the only thing that is going out in Chamonix’s centre, but the festive spirit is also fading. This may just be a brief blip and not the end of the season.
France is buying time and paying a high price to get its mountain resorts back to their former glory.