The pandemic has turned the worldwide tourism industry upside down and Monaco is no exception. Despite generous financial aid from the Prince’s government, local businesses are grappling with a tough tourist season and an uncertain future.

If you ask Monaco’s shopkeepers and restaurant owners about this year’s tourist season, one word is on everyone’s lips: apprehension. “May and June were an outright disaster. You could count the number of tourists on the streets!” explains Alexandra Rinaldi, owner of “Les 5 Saveurs”, a boutique in the old town that specialises in products from the nearby French region of Provence. “We only really started working on July 20th. So that’s about a month of work since the beginning of the year,” says the Monegasque shopkeeper who hopes that business will take a turn for the better in September and October. On a good day, she’ll have about fifty clients. “Compared to last year, the numbers fell by half,” she adds.

We’ve had to adapt. The customers are not the same

Open-air entertainment to attract tourists

“I’ve never spoken so much French as I did this summer,” remarks the manager of “U Cavagnetu”, a restaurant in the old town. “We’ve had to adapt. The customers are not the same as those of previous years. It was very hard when we first opened again, and very weird,” he comments. After losing its regular lunchtime clients to remote working, the restaurant now has to grapple with the absence of Russians, Americans and Asian tourists. These high-spending visitors have been mostly replaced by French tourists, who are spending less money. Despite high visitor numbers in August, the restaurant continues to operate on reduced staff numbers. “We’ve cut two waiters and two kitchen staff members,” explains the restaurant manager.

To pick the economy up, businesses came up with “Les Jeudis du Rochers”. Every Thursday, the old town welcomes musicians from 6 pm to 9 pm, for an evening of open-air entertainment that shop owners hoped would bring both tourists and locals back to the winding streets of the old town. “It worked well the first two or three Thursdays. Since then, it’s been a bit quieter,” explains Alexandra Rinaldi. “Residents are usually on holidays this time of year, and tourists tend to leave by 6 pm,” adds the shop owner.

I’ve been working for 53 years and I’ve never seen anything like this

Monaco’s top events cancelled

“I’ve been working for 53 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” admits Alain Latore, manager of “Capucine’s”, a shoe shop in the Condamine, the neighbourhood next to Monaco’s Port Hercules. It’s the same story all over again: “Already with remote working we saw a drop in customers. In May, we lost about 10 to 12% and without tourists the losses have just risen ever since,” he explains. During the month of August, “Capucine’s” saw a 30% revenue loss compared to the previous year.

The borders closed, then travel restrictions came into place. Now the cruise-ship industry is on halt and both Monaco’s Grand Prix and the Yacht Show have been cancelled. All of these developments have drastically affected the arrival of foreign visitors to Monaco. “In August, usually about 70% of our customers are foreigners. This year we’ve had a lot more French tourists, but fewer Germans, Italians and Brits, who went back home once the quarantine requirement was announced,” explains Alain Latore.

A harsh winter ahead

Shop keepers can’t hide their anxiety when the coming months are mentioned. “I haven’t got much hope for the future,” admits Alexandra Rinaldi, who opened her shop in March 2019. “We’re all incredibly worried about the winter, which is bound to be very long,” she says. The manager of “U Cavagnetu” echoes her words: “I’m really scared because we’re in a tourist hotspot, and while we do have our regular clients, we also count a lot on tourists,” he admits. It’s a very similar story at “Capucine’s : “I’m a little pessimistic. I’m fear there won’t be any tourism after the summer months,” explains Alain Latore.

We’ve had the most generous help in the world!

Despite very real concerns about the future, businesses express their gratitude for the financial help which the Prince’s government has offered them. Unemployment has been extended, there are social security contributions in place and the government has set up a council for economic recovery (Commission d’Accompagnement de la Relance Économique, CARE). “I’m very satisfied and can never thank the Government, and especially Prince Albert II, enough for what they have done. We’ve had the most generous help in the world!” insists Alexandra Rinaldi. We can only hope that such extensive financial aid will be enough to prevent permanent closures, a fear which has been at the back of everybody’s mind.