Leadership and Democracy LabWestern Social Science

Natural disasters and French Tourism

Primary Contributor: Lyndsay-Marie Talon

Team Leader: Blaine Yonemitsu

When looking at the tourism industry in France, natural disasters and their consequences have particularly strong consequences that affect not only the insurance companies backing the tourism industry, but also potential tourists as the typical tourist seeks the safest and most secure holiday option. In general, France does not face major natural disaster risks at regular intervals, unlike other tourist destinations that have seasonal risk of monsoons, hurricanes and tornadoes. Indeed, France enjoys a fairly temperate climate. This can have a positive impact on tourism, as safety concerns regarding disruptive weather and natural disasters are relatively low for French destinations. However, the relative infrequency of these catastrophes can sometimes negatively impact the management, defences and planning in regards to these events.

Natural disasters are not common in France, but that does not mean the country is immune to them. In the part, France has proven to be particularly susceptible to both coastal and groundwater flooding. This flooding creates consequences for the tourism industry and can cause large amounts of infrastructure repair in areas surrounding tourist attractions. A well-known incident that demonstrated the impact of flooding in France occurred in February 2010, on the French Atlantic coast, and more recent flooding in summer 2016 killed four people in the country.

The 2010 Flooding

On February 28th,  2010, storm Xynthia merged with larges waves and a high tide to exploiting a failure in flood defenses on the coast. The storm and flooding resulted in the death of 47 people, and the flooding of over 50,000 hectares of local land. Estimates place the cost of the damages from this disaster at over 1.2 Billion Euros. However, many actions can be taken to mitigate the risks of a similar event occurring in the future, and the cause of the scale of this disaster is identifiable.

Almost all of the flood defenses in the affected areas of the coast dated back to the Napoleonic era, with little updating or upkeep. These defences were built to protect rural agriculture, and did not take into account recent development and urbanization in the local regions, primarily Vendee and Charente-Maritime. Ownership of these flood defences belonged to a variety of communities and private owners, who did not have the means to adequately update them. 3,000 km of these coastal defences do not have any known owner, and are classified as “orphalines” (orphans) by the French government. In the area of La Faute-Sur-Mer, 266 of 409 newly constructed buildings were built in areas vulnerable to flooding, further demonstrating that the scale of this flooding disaster was partially as a result of inadequate preparation and infrastructure.

The Summer 2016 Flooding

In the summer of 2016, torrential storms caused the Seine to overflow, resulting in billions of euros in damage. Once again, preparation would greatly have altered the outcome of this flooding. Despite a lack of readiness, the French government declared a state of emergency. The Seine was at the highest point it had reached in three decades, leaving the surrounding areas scrambling to prepare during the torrential downpours, with very little strategy.

Other Natural Disasters

France experienced severe heatwaves in August 2003 and July 2006, which contributed to many heat-related deaths. The heatwave in 2003 kept the temperature at an average of about 37 degrees Celsius for over nine days in the area around Paris, which was much higher than any other recorded weather in the area. It also resulted in an overall average temperature for the summer that was two degrees higher than in the past. Despite the lack of official “disaster” label, these heat waves sparked large conversations about climate change and created apprehension in the French populace, ultimately also had a discouraging effect on the tourism industry.

Despite the lack of impressive physical damage in the same manner as flooding, heat waves still prevented tourists from venturing and contributing into the local French communities. The number of heat waves and individual days of intense heat have been displaying a consistent upward trend throughout Europe. This can potentially discourage summer tourism while visitors search for a more consistent and moderate climate to visit and enjoy. Although the French heat waves have not been directly proven to be as a result of climate change, there is little to be done to prevent these temperature changes at this time, and heat related deaths and illnesses need to be taken into account. The heat wave of 2003 occurred without a precedent, which had serious negative effects. However, overall cultural significance of France will seemingly overcome the threat of heat waves.

Many crisis management and disaster prevention plans are created in response to a specific event, leaving little room for proactive actions. In order to minimize risk in the French tourism, disaster response and protective defenses must be regularly examined regardless of the long periods without incidents, unlike the French coastal defences prior to the 2010 flooding. Additionally, the potential for a continually changing climate must be taken into account when planning tourist attractions, and update defenses and management plans to reflect increased development. These crisis prevention plans can extend to governmental response and information control to the media, limiting the detrimental effects that negative reporting may have on these tourist areas. Minimizing the damage of no-escape natural disasters, and diverting preventable disasters, as well as effective disaster recovery are vital to the tourism industry. In France, this will require a large focus on re-evaluating antiquated preparations and defenses regarding common natural disasters, even without a large amount of historical precedent. Natural disasters in general do not seem to pose a huge threat to potential investors, encouraging France’s attractive investing properties.