Let’s Clean-up Capestang Campaign- 40 Before 40

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expats living in France
My EXpat Life - Hamori family settle in Capestang France
Summer End, Canal du Midi Capestang
Capestang Summer End, Canal du Midi Capestang

 

 

 

When we decided on Capestang as the perfect spot in Europe to raise our children, what we saw in this village was untouched potential.

We stumbled across a perfectly preserved French village that stays open year round. Unlike many of the coastal communities that cater to tourists, they then shut down for the winter. Capestang has just enough life and resources year round to sustain daily life without the need to travel by car each day to another town or city. Capestang is a gem. And nearly no one has ever heard of it, unless you are from here, you would pass right by without even a second glance.

The most famous places in the Languedoc are: Carcassonne Castle, Minerve, Montpellier, Narbonne, Pezenas, and Cap D’Agde– all offering tourists an experience more than just historical sites or shopping.

I want Capestang on this list.

Capestang is an experience, like time travelling to a more relaxed era, when people do not rush through their day to get somewhere. Here, locals mingle, head up to the square for a beer, and go to the festivals throughout the year. Tourists and locals enjoy the hike to the bell tower offering a lookout of the best stretch of the Canal du Midi where it bends around Capestang. Stores close over lunch, Sundays, evenings and holidays ensuring everyone who lives here actually enjoys their village. The locals congregate at the town square and the conversations are continuous. The southern French enjoy 2-3 hour long lunch breaks, and take their family time and vacations very seriously.

On market day the square is bustling and the public sample traditional southern foods. You can hear languages from around the world as you sip a cup of coffee and eat a croissant from the master boulangerie on the square.

Capestang also has virtually unknown walking paths through the vineyards to amazing lookout points. From the 360° you can see all the surrounding villages, and the water tower route brings you past an old donkey named Diego, who everyone seems to know and feed, owned by an old Catalan man who thinks he is speaking French.

You can walk for hours in these parts, and discover massive fig trees where the fruit falls off since no one picks them, berry bushes picked clean by the birds and as far as the eye can see are beautiful row after row of grapes.

In the distance, the Pyrenees Mountains stand at attention in the background towards Narbonne, and you can track the Canal through the region by the trees on either side. It is visually spectacular.

For tourism, the biggest issue is trying to get guests to stay longer and spend more money. The statistics say that although France has the most visitors they are far behind any other top ten country except Russia, for the visitors spending. To summarize our visitors spend the least amount of money while on vacation. Here is the diagram from the article called “Which country gets the most tourists?” by BBC News. 

Most popular tourist destinations
Country No. visitors (million) Total spent (US $bn) Amount spent a head (US $)
France

83.0

53.6

645.8

United States

67.0

126.2

1883.6

China

57.7

50.0

866.6

Spain

57.7

55.9

968.8

Italy

46.4

41.2

887.9

Turkey

35.7

25.7

719.9

Germany

30.4

38.1

1253.3

United Kingdom

29.3

36.6

1249.1

Russian Federation

25.7

11.2

435.8

Malaysia

25.0

20.2

808.0

Austria

24.2

18.9

780.9

Hong Kong

23.8

32.1

1348.7

Mexico

23.4

12.7

542.7

Ukraine

23.0

4.8

208.7

Thailand

22.4

30.1

1343.8

Canada

16.3

17.4

1067.5

Greece

15.5

12.9

832.3

Poland

14.8

10.9

736.5

Saudi Arabia

13.7

7.4

540.1

Macau

13.6

43.7

3213.2

SOURCE: UN WORLD TOURISM ORGANIZATION

 

Consider France’s population of 65.7 million, 83 million visitors is extraordinary.  Second place goes to America with a population of 316.6 million with 67 million tourists. With that population you would expect a much higher visitor ratio.

If Capestang suffers from the same grave issue as the rest of France, the real question is why are people spending so little on vacation?

Of course, we all know by now, Alfonz and I run Le Petit Platane,  a little B&B in southern France, so naturally we want to increase business. In particular, the goal is to extend the season into Spring and Fall, bringing is people not just looking for better weather, rather outdoorsy excursions and possible entertainment options.

While countries like Ireland, Norway and Austria top the list for walking vacations in the spring and fall, they do not have 320 days of sun per year like southern France. Somehow they manage an excellent tourist drive. What are they doing right? Marketing!

A hole in the marketing of this region is obvious, and our gites, rental apartments, and B&B’s remain vacant, while the tourist head towards colder, closer climates.

One solution is the cheap flights coming into Beziers, Toulouse, Carcassonne and Montpellier. When people get here for 40€ each way during a European vacation, more people will think about making the diversion.

Here a mere $645.80 per person spent on vacation in France compared to the $1883.60 per person in the US. The question still remains, how do we get them to stay longer and spend more?

Perhaps Europeans view southern France as their backyard, and it is easily accessible by car, and many French don’t leave France during summer breaks and head south towards the beach. A couple can easily pack up for the weekend from home or their home in a neighbouring country and head to better weather and return. These types of travelers used to bring nothing and spend as they went. In today’s economy they pack the car full, and use up everything they bring. Many view southern France as an inexpensive getaway.

In France, European visitors come often and on tight budgets, and will probably skip the expensive museums and attractions and do more of the free stuff, knowing they will be back in their lifetime. Contrary, USA is a huge country, and when people visit, they try to see as much as possible. Families go for long periods of time, and visit many expensive tourist attractions as they go. If you only go once in your life, you are more likely to part with your money.

Working on the boats for the past year, I have noticed a new trend as well. People used to fly in to rent a houseboat, buy everything they needed along the canal, and leave whatever they do not use on the boat. This year however, more and more people are driving in, buying everything from their countries of origin or region of France and buying less en route. They then take everything they don’t use, back home with them. It seems more like a cool way to camp along the Canal du Midi, and not the luxurious vacation it once was.

Alfonz and I were looking at house listings in the local realtor’s window this morning and we bumped into four tourists from Florida, USA and the term they used was Glamping. Glamour Camping.

What can France do to increase visitor spending? As a community, we can do a few things to put ourselves on the map, and become a destination for long stay tourists.

The top ten list will be posted shortly…

For now, I am happy to announce that I am directly involved in the next municipal election in Capestang. Working with a dynamic group of people dedicated to improve our village in some fashion. In the near future you will hear more about this man, but for now you heard it here first… Pierre Polard for mayor.

3 COMMENTS

  1. So nice to read about your experience with living abroad, especially when it comes to France. When it comes to cool things to do, and explore the country at the same time, I think houseboats are the perfect way to go! The Canal du Midi is without a doubt a must-do when visiting the south of France. Here’s some superb ‘péniches’ that you might be interested in for your next article about ‘top 10 list’: https://www.bookahouseboat.com/rentals/france
    Keep up the good work!
    Juul

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