STRASBOURG, France (eTN) – Created 441 years ago, Strasbourg’s Christmas Market (Christkindelsmärik, in local Alsatian language) belongs to the top tourism events of the regional capital of Alsace in Eastern France. During five weeks, Strasbourg turns into the capital of Christmas with millions of visitors strolling around 300 shops settled in 12 various locations in the historical town, the most popular market being the one in front of the cathedral. The economic significance of Christmas has been growing from strength to strength over the years. In record year 2009, Strasbourg’s Christmas Markets welcomed 2.2 million visitors.
A major boost was the opening in 2007 of the high-speed train line from Paris to Strasbourg, which translated into an additional 150,000 visitors during the 5-week event. In 2010, travelers coming by TGV were up by 31 percent over 2009. The opening on December 11 of the first intra-regional TGV line linking Mulhouse in Alsace to Lyon is likely to have a similar boosting effect on domestic tourism.
Last year, the number of visitors to Strasbourg was down by 10 percent, due mostly to bad weather conditions in December 2010 with snow storms affecting all means of transportation to the Alsatian capital. Economic crisis also had a negative impact on the total number of foreign visitors. Their number was down by 20 percent while domestic travelers remained relatively stable at 2 percent. According to Strasbourg municipality, 1.4 million of the tourists are day excursionists with daily spending reaching on average €50. Tourists spending a night, spent on average €150 per day.
Foreign travelers come mostly from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Benelux countries. There is an increasing demand from China and Japan. Despite this slowdown, hotels recorded for the entire month of December some 631,000 overnights, while the city estimates that generated revenues from the event reached an estimated €160 million in revenues. The region estimates that through all of the Christmas season, beginning from the first Advent weekend (last week of November), middle-class hotels are generally packed with occupancy at 90 percent, while 4- to 5-star hotels show occupancy rates of 65 percent to 70 percent. The demand is pushing prices up with TGV tickets and hotel prices being at least 30 percent more expensive than other periods of the year.
Strasbourg, however, seems to suffer from the competition of other Christmas markets in Alsace and the neighboring Lorraine with cities such as Colmar, Metz, or Mulhouse experiencing growth in total visitors. Polemics rose a couple of years ago when the city decided to ban from all markets non-Christmas products such as Turkish-style “kebab” or Chinese-style “spring rolls.” In 2011, Strasbourg’s various Christmas markets are more than ever faithful to the Christmas tradition, according to Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries, highlighting that Strasbourg Christkindlmärik must avoid losing its identity. A Christmas food specialty and handicraft market is now installed in front of the Strasbourg main rail station, while more craft shops can be seen around the cathedral. A new quality label has even been created for the Spice wine, now made from white wine produced in Alsace.
Meanwhile, Strasbourg and other cities in Alsace still retain their special atmosphere during Christmas. And if prices seem too expensive prior to Christmas, there is still the possibility for travelers to enjoy most Christmas markets up to December 31. The magic is still there and is more affordable after December 26.