On a sunny afternoon this week, Eli Mwenda happily snapped pictures of his sister Rebekah Mithinji by the Eiffel Tower, two of many tourists enjoying a long overdue break in Paris after freezing holiday plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Paris trip for the siblings was a graduation gift for Mithinji, initially planned for 2020. Two years later they finally made it, with Mithinji traveling from Britain and Mwenda all the way from Kenya.
“Walking around the streets, seeing people’s faces without masks, going to restaurants, feeling the energy of people around you without the distancing, it’s so refreshing,” said Mwenda.
The Paris tourist office is forecasting that foreign visits will increase more than five-fold in May-July compared to the same period last year, mainly thanks to tourists from Spain, Germany, Britain and Italy.
That will, however, still be a third less than pre-pandemic levels, partly because U.S. and Asian tourists are not expected to be back in large numbers yet.
At Chez Eugene, a restaurant on the scenic Place du Tertre in the heart of Montmartre, manager Jonas Seignovert was relieved tourists had started coming back.
“We are very glad to be able to completely fill up the restaurant again and that there is this atmosphere in the square,” Seignovert said, adding he had seen European tourists flock back to the capital, along with some Brazilians and U.S. tourists, but almost none from Asia.
During the pandemic, he had adapted his offer to cater to Parisians’ taste rather than his usual tourism clientele, which was gone. Now that tourists are returning, he’s hoping for a mix of local and foreign customers.
Hotel owners also saw a sharp rise in bookings this Spring, with overall activity getting close to pre-pandemic levels in April, and even topping 2019 figures by 3.1% over Easter, according to marketing consulting company MKG Consulting.
“Every weekend is sold out. Every week-end,” said Les Jardins du Faubourg hotel manager Jennifer Boccara.
“A lot of countries have totally changed their COVID travel policies, so it was really good for us.”