“A calm season? I do not think the term is appropriate. In fact, we wait for it to start, but nothing happens. »The waiters look grim, this Wednesday morning, on the Place Saint-Nicolas, in the city center of Bastia (Haute-Corse). Usually, at this time of the year, this vast esplanade facing the Tyrrhenian Sea sees the terraces of its cafes besieged by tourists fresh off the boats, at dawn. But this summer, these images of well-stocked tables of holidaymakers starting their stay on the island are only a vague memory.

At a time when France seems to be starting to recover, in Corsica the season remains desperately calm, doubly affected by the health crisis and the physical distancing which make trips and stays complicated to organize. After three months of dormancy, bars, restaurants and hotels are certainly seeing customers coming back little by little. But the drastically reduced tourist flows do not herald bright days. Quite the contrary. “Attendance is in free fall, immediately displays Bernard Giudicelli, president of the Regional Union of Trades and Hospitality Industries (Umih). The fill rates are particularly low, with peaks barely reaching 50%. Normally, during this period, we approach 90%… ”

A key sector of the Corsican economy

The numbers are relentless. According to the regional chamber of industry and commerce (CCI), in the port of Bastia, the maritime gateway to the island, passenger flows to Corsica decreased by more than 55% during the first two weekends in July, compared to last year. The number of stopovers has even been halved compared to 2019. Ditto for air travel, where the number of seats has been reduced. It’s a safe bet that the results will be far from the 3.5 million visitors that the island is used to welcoming each year.

In Ajaccio (Corse-du-Sud), the data from the tourist office also reflect this unprecedented decrease. This month, when the season is supposed to be in full swing, the number of visitors to its premises has dropped by 70% compared to July 2019. In June, it was even worse: the office counter was showing a drop close to 90%. Enough to give a lot of cold sweats to tourism professionals, more and more worried about these end-of-day reports far below seasonal norms. Everyone knows that the shortfall will not be made up, and 2020 is already akin to an “annus horribilis”.

On average, we are talking about turnover cut by two thirds compared to last year. A shock wave that risks impacting the entire island economy. Indeed, in Corsica, tourism weighs very heavily: 31% of gross domestic product (GDP) according to INSEE, against 7.2% for the national average. A lever of some 2.5 billion euros which makes the island the region of France most dependent on this activity. The sector accounts for about 20% of jobs, not counting the approximately 13,500 seasonal workers hired each summer to “make the season”. But, for the moment, recruitments are reduced to the minimum portion, for lack of sufficient activity.

In normal times, Corsica however pulls out of the game in the concert of European destinations by attracting more than 750,000 foreigners per year. However, since the deconfinement, the influx of national tourists or from neighboring countries remains timid. The international clientele is almost absent and, in view of the constraints linked to transport, essential to get to the island, Corsica does not seem to benefit much from “patriotic tourism” which is starting in France. In a region populated by barely 330,000 inhabitants, traders also know that they will hardly be able to count on the internal market to limit damage.

Read also Corsica: the specter of a “collapse”

In this gloomy context, the Corsica tourism agency (ATC) nevertheless tries to reassure tourists and residents, by trying to stay on a crest line between economy and health. Since July 21, the relaunch of the season has been accompanied by a distinctive brand, “Safe Corsica”. Behind this name, the agency intends to build a secure health offer through various protocols implemented by shipping companies and airlines, as well as tourist establishments. Objective: to make this label a commercial argument to regain the confidence of customers traumatized by the coronavirus crisis. “This device is a good thing, but it comes far too late”, deplores Bernard Giudicelli.

At the beginning of April, the Umih had anticipated the shock by proposing to the regional executive a battery of measures aimed at making Corsica a “sanitary responsible destination”, without much success. At the beginning of May, the president of the region, the nationalist Gilles Simeoni, had instead opted for a “green pass”, a sort of health passport which would condition any arrival on the island to a negative test for Covid-19. A proposal remained a dead letter with the government. Since entrances cannot be regulated, thermal cameras have been installed since mid-July in the arrival halls of the four Corsican airports. This system, set up by the regional health agency and the CCI, can detect passengers with a temperature above 38 ° C. They are then invited to see a doctor. However, no isolation measures are provided if a traveler proves to be feverish. Will this device be enough to reassure residents and vacationers? Hard to say.

“The virus continues to dictate its law”

In an attempt to cushion the economic shock, the island’s public authorities are already exploring other avenues. Their credo: renew the tourist offer in the off-season, hoping to postpone the slack period with more sustained activity in the fall. ATC has invested four million euros for a promotional campaign, as an operation to seduce volatile tourists. However, competition is fierce to attract courted vacationers from all quarters.

“Corsica is a land of slow tourisme which has considerable assets to promote around its natural and cultural heritage, considers Nathalie Cau, director of the Ajaccio tourist office. It will be necessary to redouble creativity to decline an innovative and diversified offer. “

If the professionals of the sector necessarily adhere to the approach, they know however that the pandemic is still there and that the threat of a second wave harms confidence, at a time when the contaminations curve starts to rise again. Wearing a mask, which has become compulsory again since July 20 in closed public places, does not send a good signal to tourists who are still cautious. “The virus continues to dictate its law and health indicators are worrying, observes Bernard Giudicelli. This climate of uncertainties does not plead in our favor and we should not be under any illusions, the stake is no longer to save the season, which is already ruined. It is a question of knowing how we will recover from this crisis which is likely to last several years. “