French holiday boom: Rush for ski slopes after ban is lifted


Bon voyage (at last)! Passengers queue at Gatwick for first flights out to France while others head to St Pancras Eurostar terminal… as French travel ban on unvaccinated Britons is lifted after four weeks

  • Tour operators reported a rush of bookings for skiing holidays within minutes of the curbs being eased
  • From today British travellers who are double-jabbed can enter with negative test taken within 24 hours  
  • Isolate-on-arrival rule has also been scrapped as rules are scrapped after outcry from struggling resorts
  • British tourists were banned from entering France from December 18 over fears about Omicron variant

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France has lifted its ban on British tourists from today in a massive boost for holidaymakers and skiers – who arriving at airports and train stations this morning to head across the Channel.

Tour operators reported a rush of bookings for skiing holidays within minutes of the curbs being eased – with some airlines reporting a 600 per cent spike in last-minute reservations.

France’s tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne announced the move following an outcry from struggling resorts.

It means that from today British travellers who are double-jabbed can enter if they have proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 24 hours of departure. The isolate-on-arrival rule has also been scrapped.

Tourists were pictured this morning walking through London Gatwick Airport with snowboards while others arrived for Eurostar trains at London St Pancras station as many take advantage of the change in rules.

French president Emmanuel Macron had been accused of being ‘spiteful’ after his government banned British tourists from entering the country last month from December 18 over fears about the Omicron variant. 

(Left to right) Poppy Marshall-Law, Emiko Ishii and Marco Farris walk through London Gatwick Airport today en route to the Alps for a photograph, which was issued to the media by easyJet after the French government removed the UK tourist ban

(Left to right) Poppy Marshall-Law, Emiko Ishii and Marco Farris walk through London Gatwick Airport today en route to the Alps for a photograph, which was issued to the media by easyJet after the French government removed the UK tourist ban

(Left to right) Poppy Marshall-Law, Emiko Ishii and Marco Farris walk through London Gatwick Airport today en route to the Alps for a photograph, which was issued to the media by easyJet after the French government removed the UK tourist ban

(Left to right) Marco Farris, Poppy Marshall-Law and Emiko Ishii queue up at London's Gatwick Airport this morning

(Left to right) Marco Farris, Poppy Marshall-Law and Emiko Ishii queue up at London's Gatwick Airport this morning

(Left to right) Marco Farris, Poppy Marshall-Law and Emiko Ishii queue up at London’s Gatwick Airport this morning

Passengers queue at the check-in desks for easyJet flights at London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning

Passengers queue at the check-in desks for easyJet flights at London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning

Passengers queue at the check-in desks for easyJet flights at London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning

A plane passenger carries what appears to be winter sports equipment through London Gatwick Airport this morning

A plane passenger carries what appears to be winter sports equipment through London Gatwick Airport this morning

A plane passenger carries what appears to be winter sports equipment through London Gatwick Airport this morning 

People arrive for flights at London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning after France's travel rules changed

People arrive for flights at London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning after France's travel rules changed

People arrive for flights at London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning after France’s travel rules changed

Passengers queue at the check-in desks for easyJet flights at London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning

Passengers queue at the check-in desks for easyJet flights at London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning

Passengers queue at the check-in desks for easyJet flights at London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning

Passengers walk into the departures area of London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning

Passengers walk into the departures area of London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning

Passengers walk into the departures area of London Gatwick Airport in West Sussex this morning

Despite the move, cases of the variant have soared in France, undermining the case for keeping draconian border curbs in place.

The move will provide a major lift to winter sports travel firms, particularly ahead of their peak period during February half-term.

What are the rules for Britons jetting off to France and how is its Omicron fight going?

What are the rules?

Vaccinated travellers will be allowed in if they have evidence of a negative Covid test taken within 24 hours of departure. Isolation on arrival will also be scrapped.

Booster vaccines will be required for holidaymakers hoping to qualify for a pass sanitaire – which permits access to restaurants, museums and ski lifts.

What were they?

France made the decision on December 18 to close its borders to British holidaymakers in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

France had already slightly eased restrictions for Brits – with last week seeing anyone with compelling business trips being allowed in.

The rules dictated anyone arriving from the UK had to show a negative Covid test at the border, before completing a 48-hour quarantine, and then undergoing another test.

How is France battling Omicron?

The French are reporting new records of infection as the highly contagious Omicron variant sweeps across Europe.

A figure of 368,149 in France over 24 hours on Wednesday trumped a previous record of 332,252 set on January 5. France’s seven-day moving average of cases was nearly 270,000, according to official figures.

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It will also boost cross-Channel Eurostar, Eurotunnel and ferry services as mini breaks in cities such as Paris come back on the cards.

The French Alps are the UK’s most popular winter sports destination and skiers have been forced to postpone or take trips to nearby Switzerland and Austria.

However, Jet2.com was among the first to announce it will resume ski flights to destinations such as Lyon, Chambery and Grenoble from January 22 – and will be slashing ticket prices by 10 per cent to celebrate the move. 

Chief executive Steve Heapy said: ‘This is the positive news that skiers and snowboarders have been looking forward to and the spike in bookings for ski flights has been both sharp and immediate.

‘The snow conditions in the French Alps are said to be excellent, meaning our customers are jumping at the chance to get back on the slopes.’

TUI, which runs the UK’s largest ski tour operator Crystal Ski Holidays, will also restart French trips from January 22. 

The firm’s boss Chris Logan said it had been a ‘challenging’ start to the season but they were ‘delighted to be able to hit the slopes in France once again’.

He added: ‘Bookings to France doubled yesterday even before the announcement and we would expect to see another very positive uptick now it’s official.’

EasyJet said it was also increasing the number of flights to France after the news and had seen a 600 per cent spike in last-minute bookings.

And flight data experts Cirium said that there were now 2,179 scheduled flights between France and Britain this month – up from just 894 last January.

Christophe Mathieu, chief executive of Brittany Ferries, said the announcement was a ‘great relief’ and that ‘we have seen the last border closure of the Covid crisis’. 

He added: ‘Thousands of Brittany Ferries passengers have been disrupted and millions of pounds in income has been lost as a consequence of draconian measures like border closures.’

England last week relaxing its own rules for returning holidaymakers.

Double-jabbed people no longer need to take a test before returning and can take a cheaper and quicker lateral flow test post-arrival rather than a PCR swab by day two. The changes save a family of four around £300.

Passengers arrive at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today after France eased travel restrictions

Passengers arrive at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today after France eased travel restrictions

Passengers arrive at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today after France eased travel restrictions

A passenger arriving from London by the Eurostar train is greeted by a relative at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today

A passenger arriving from London by the Eurostar train is greeted by a relative at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today

A passenger arriving from London by the Eurostar train is greeted by a relative at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today

Passengers walk along the platform at Paris Gare du Nord train station after arriving on a Eurostar service this morning

Passengers walk along the platform at Paris Gare du Nord train station after arriving on a Eurostar service this morning

Passengers walk along the platform at Paris Gare du Nord train station after arriving on a Eurostar service this morning

Passengers arriving from London by a Eurostar train wear face masks at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today

Passengers arriving from London by a Eurostar train wear face masks at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today

Passengers arriving from London by a Eurostar train wear face masks at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today

Passengers arriving from London by a Eurostar train exit the arrival gate at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today

Passengers arriving from London by a Eurostar train exit the arrival gate at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today

Passengers arriving from London by a Eurostar train exit the arrival gate at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today

Passengers arrive at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today after France eased travel restrictions

Passengers arrive at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today after France eased travel restrictions

Passengers arrive at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord train station in Paris today after France eased travel restrictions

A woman pulls her suitcase through London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

A woman pulls her suitcase through London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

A woman pulls her suitcase through London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

Rail passengers are pictured at London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

Rail passengers are pictured at London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

Rail passengers are pictured at London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

Passengers are pictured walking through London St Pancras rail station this morning where Eurostar trains depart

Passengers are pictured walking through London St Pancras rail station this morning where Eurostar trains depart

Passengers are pictured walking through London St Pancras rail station this morning where Eurostar trains depart

Rail passengers walk through London St Pancras train station this morning as French travel reopens to British tourists

Rail passengers walk through London St Pancras train station this morning as French travel reopens to British tourists

Rail passengers walk through London St Pancras train station this morning as French travel reopens to British tourists

Rail passengers are pictured at London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

Rail passengers are pictured at London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

Rail passengers are pictured at London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

Rail passengers are pictured at London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

Rail passengers are pictured at London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

Rail passengers are pictured at London St Pancras train station this morning at the Eurostar rail terminal

There was also relief on the other side of the Channel. Alexandre Holroyd, a French MP with Mr Macron’s Republic On the Move party, appeared to criticise his leader.

He said: ‘It’s a welcome and overdue decision. All those with close ties to France – whether for business, family or leisure – will breathe a sigh of relief as do I.

‘It’s time to ensure those who are fully vaccinated can live a life free of the constraints linked to the fight against Covid-19.’

Christophe Lavaut, director of the popular Val d’Isere ski resort, said it was ‘good news’.

He added: ‘Unfortunately, this will not be enough to compensate for the losses accumulated since the Christmas holidays, with in particular a drop in attendance of 32 per cent for the current week.

‘We just hope that the British people will understand that the restrictions were in no way up to us and that they are always welcome.’ Francois Badjily, head of the Alpe d’Huez tourist office, said the news was ‘a huge relief’.

Julia Simpson, chief of the World Travel and Tourism Council, welcomed the move, but added: ‘Once a variant is endemic, closing borders is pointless and only damages livelihoods, especially in travel and tourism – one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic.’

British holidaymakers account for up to half of overseas visitors in some French Alps resorts.

Following the news, flight data experts Cirium said scheduled flights between the UK and France climbed to 144 per cent more this month than January 2021.

However, they are still 66 per cent down on January 2020, before the pandemic.

There are 2,179 flights scheduled between the two nations this month – equating to 367,164 seats. Last January there were just 894 flights and 6,364 in January 2020.

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