Last week, a group of three surfers had snuck out to a peak that is a couple of clicks from a beach car park and thus only accessible through the forest, when a passing Gendarme patrol helicopter seemed to have spotted them and changed course.
“As they sheltered behind their boards from all the sand and debris flying in their faces, the cops had machine guns pointed at them and instructed ‘Ne bougez pas!’ (Freeze!) over the heli’s speakers,” reported Paul Evans. “The bird then landed and made the arrests.”
The French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that all French beaches will remain shut until June 2nd, despite the national lockdown ending on May 11.
It is unclear as to whether surfing will be allowed again from that point, but the community seems broadly optimistic after some six weeks of strict lockdown, that at least some of France’s famed civil liberties will be restored. Or at least, that they will no longer be pointing machine guns at surfers.
Hashtags like #RendezNousNosPlages (give us back our beaches) are being used by mayors and local authorities in open defiance of the central government.
From South Africa to Indonesia perfect waves are currently going unridden for the first time in 50-plus years. J-Bay is on lockdown. Surfers in LA are getting $1,000 fines. And in Costa Rica, cops are firing guns at surfers — well, at least one cop did.
Enjoying the soothing images is not to downplay the underlying tragic aspect of the crise sanitaire (health crisis) as it’s known here, lost lives and livelihoods, but still, it’s a glimpse of what places like Biarritz & Bordeaux look like, in this new world.
We are collectively living through the most harrowing crisis of our lifetime, and as it began to unfold, life came to a standstill.
The impact of the coronavirus on the travel industry has already been stark: half the world’s population is under lockdown, while the number of flights worldwide has dropped from some 200,000 on February 21 to 64,000 on March 31, according to website FlightRadar 24.
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 96% of the world's destinations are currently impacted by travel restrictions and other lockdown measures. European Union Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton estimates the EU's tourism economy could drop by up to 70 per cent and that it should be first in line to be given recovery funds.
Across the continent, tourism accounts for up to 27 million jobs, and the industry generated 400 billion euros last year alone, said the UNWTO's Risi.
"We’re talking about millions of jobs. This is not something that will go away. The social and developmental impact – if we go beyond Europe and look at so many countries across the world that have tourism as a lifeline – can be huge," he warned.
France had 89.4 million foreign visitors in 2018 and tourism accounts for 8% of GDP. The government estimates that two million people work directly or indirectly in the travel industry.
“It’s going to take so long for the demand to even come close to what it was,” says Rafat Ali, chief executive and founder of travel industry news publication Skift. As recently as two months ago, he says, Skift was reporting heavily on overtourism; now, its coverage has shifted dramatically, to tracking the rapidly changing milieu for airlines, hotels, and all facets of the travel industry.
Ali is taking what he calls the long view, expecting air travel to return to early 2020 levels in five years, taking into account that the airline industry took three years to recover post-9/11, and two years to return to pre-2008 revenues after the recession.
And in the short term, driveable local trips to vacation rentals can ease shell-shocked travelers back into adventure.