Switzerland has a privileged position in the heart of Europe. Not only do residents have the glorious Swiss Alps and azure lakes to explore, they can easily limit themselves to other amazing destinations in Austria, France, Germany and Italy.
But travel can also be practical, and a more common reason is luring the Swiss to France this summer.
Given rising fuel costs, a growing number of Geneva-area residents are driving over the French border to fill up their cars.
The phenomenon has been described as ‘pump tourism’, overcoming the ‘shopping tourism’ that has long led Genevans to buy cheaper goods in border towns.
A liter of fuel in Geneva now costs around 2.20 francs (€2.30) compared to €1.80 in the Haute-Savoie region, so – combined with a favorable exchange rate – the extended journey is worth it for some.
Why are French politicians unhappy with ‘pump tourism’?
However, some French politicians are not happy with this new tourist trend.
They emphasize that the cheapest pump prices in France are deducted from the government’s fuel rebate of 18 cents per litre, which is ultimately funded by French taxpayers.
“We absolutely must give priority to the French,” Loïc Hervé, a senator from Haute-Savoie, told the Tribune de Genève newspaper earlier this month.
“We should not help the rich, the Swiss and foreign tourists. It’s that simple.”
But Geneva State Councilor Mauro Poggia argues that border benefits have always flowed both ways. French professionals employed in Geneva have enjoyed higher wages and other benefits that come from working for a Swiss company.
“And let’s not forget that the French also fill up their cars in Geneva before going home, and that hasn’t bothered anyone,” he said.
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine – and the resulting rise in fuel prices – unleaded gas was cheaper Switzerland that in France, reports Local.
But in June the Swiss government decided against the type of fuel rebate that France, as well AustriaGermany and Ital have introduced to ease the pressure on drivers.
With France’s rebate increasing to 30 cents per liter in September and October, the flow of vehicles with Vaud and Geneva number plates is unlikely to stop anytime soon.
Where else is ‘pump tourism’ growing?
With the cost of living affecting people’s lives and travel plans across the continent, the Swiss-French border is not alone in seeing this kind of traffic.
Luxembourg has fantastically cheap fuel, making long-haul truckers and holidaymakers refuel en route to their final destinations.
The world’s largest petrol station is Shell’s yard in Berchem, just off the A3 in southern Luxembourg, and it has been even busier than usual this summer.
“This is because of the location, which is perfect in the middle of Europe, and the favorable fuel prices also make a difference,” manager Daniel Calderon told AFP earlier this month.