On the first weekday of BOOT 2019 in Dusseldorf, the Inland Waterways Pavillion held its Day of the Canals press day. The programme incorporated perspectives on waterways development and potential across Europe, including Flanders, Scotland, The Netherlands, France and Leipzig in Germany.
As part of the afternoon agenda Frederic Millet of the Voies Navigables de France (VNF) spoke of the potential for tourism on the inland waterways of France.
Based on the latest official figures available, Frederic highlighted the popularity of French canals and rivers with inbound visitors with some 11.2 million passengers said to have been transported along the waterways network in 2017.
The figures reveal a nice yet growing market segment for waterways tourism in France, with a particularly strong interest from overseas visitors.
A system of reference points across the VNF lock network counts boat passage numbers. This helps the VNF understand the demand for the waterways with tourists and which routes are most popular. You’ll notice in this slide how a growth in lock passages was recorded at Saint Louis Arzviller on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin after the section re-opened following repairs.
Unsurprisingly, there is a consistent thread in what is attracting visitors to France and its waterway network. History and heritage, food and wine are magnets for French tourism and there are no signs of this faltering.
While some visitors to France will hop aboard a day cruise to explore the river or canal in their immediate vicinity, others, as we know, are booking boating vacations in France as their means to see the country from another perspective.
Most of the hotel barges and hire boat providers enable guests to borrow or hire bikes. Cycling the towpath in part is an idyllic way to spend some time while cruising. The majority of the waterway network has a towpath that’s navigable by bike. There are certainly areas where it is in better condition and similarly parts where the towpath has been specifically optimised for cyclists. It isn’t complete or perfect but sufficient for most enjoying moments of cycling as part of a boating holiday in France.
And finally, Frederic touched on the technological advances making their waves on waterways tourism. Notably, the Nicols Sixto Green launch – and its popularity with tourists – received a mention.
In brief, Frederic showcased what we discuss and effuse every day – that France’s waterways are a most pleasant means for seeing France. Also that the potential for them to appeal to a broader net of tourists is significant. And that we have a responsibility to spread the word amongst those tourists about more of those waterways – everyone has heard of the iconic Canal du Midi and it’s a natural starting point for many cruising France. Yet there is so much more beauty, heritage and wine to discover elsewhere!
Which region of France shall we start with first?