Grenoble (AFP)

After two months of confinement, an immense desire for nature has won over the French: the mountain intends to transform the ordeal of the Covid-19 epidemic into an opportunity to attract tourists to its resorts and villages.

"This summer, we are going to invite people, without going far, to go high," summarizes Jean-Marc Silva, director of France Montagnes, the organization responsible for promoting it and which brings together the main players in the sector (municipalities , ski schools, ski lift operators ...).

The 100 km displacement limit is on everyone's mind. But the mountain dwellers hope for its enlargement and reflect on a summer when the French would stay in France. Especially since in the past three years, the mountains have become their second favorite destination behind the coast, still far ahead.

According to a study by Savoie Mont-Blanc Tourisme on post-confinement departure intentions, 20% of French people have decided on their destination and 40% would not leave. But 40% are still undecided.

"It is up to us to convince them that the mountains can meet their need for large spaces," stresses Mr. Silva, emphasizing the values ​​it embodies: closer family and friendly ties, solidarity, reconnection with nature ... .

To take advantage of this "formidable opportunity", a major television communication campaign is being prepared for the month of June, with a budget of 300,000 euros financed in an unprecedented way by the six French massifs.

If "mountain tourism was born in the 19th century in summer with hydrotherapy and sanatoriums", the craze for winter sports and their economic weight in France meant that "summer was not appreciated at its fair value ", analyzes Benoît Robert, director of the Cluster Montagne, an association which brings together tourism development companies in the mountains.

Elsewhere in the world, recent resorts attract more people in summer than in winter, like Sochi in Russia, Whistler in Canada or Gulmarg in Indian Kashmir. But this implies developing or enhancing aquatic activities and water bodies to meet the requirements of "no water, no leisure" (no water, no leisure).

- "Sinews of war" -

Many resorts have already invested in aquatic complexes or outdoor facilities such as the body of water purified by plants from Combloux (Haute-Savoie).

"We risk having newcomers. We have to seduce them," explains Jean-Marc Silva.

The heads of tourist offices agree on the need to "reassure customers, with new business practices such as reimbursement without reservation fees even at the last minute", notes Eric Bouchet of Deux Alpes (Isère). It is even "the nerve of the war", abounds Valérie Serpollet of Pralognan-la Vanoise (Savoie).

But perhaps the most difficult is to reconcile health measures with the imagination conveyed by the mountains.

Avoriaz (Haute-Savoie) wants to have its health system labeled by an approved organization, announces its director Michaël Ruysschaert.

This solution is possible in Avoriaz because Pierre & Vacances represents 70% of the resort's accommodation and therefore guarantees easier application of the protocols.

But in Pralognan, a village resort in the heart of the Vanoise National Park, the diversity of accommodation providers does not allow us to envisage this solution.

For this village, with 90% French customers and where the summer season already runs from June 15 to September 5, the challenge lies mainly in adapting the leisure offer to health guidelines.

"Our guide office - which manages hiking, mountaineering but also via ferrata, tree climbing or zip line - works there," adds the manager.

In Les Saisies (Savoie), where activity is already done at 30% in summer, the challenge is "to extend the season so that it lasts at least four months", insists its director Olivier Reydellet. With Covid-compatible activities such as orientation courses, drone races, trail circuits with reference times from local champions, yoga-zen or gastro-botanical hikes.

© 2020 AFP