France set for record number of tourists in 2015
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France is on course to welcome a record number of tourists this year, helping boost sector revenue by about 4 percent, minister for foreign affairs and tourism Laurent Fabius said.
With the attractions of the capital Paris, its Loire Valley chateaux, Alpine ski resorts, Riviera beaches and gastronomic pleasures, France has been the world’s most visited country since the 1980s.
But visitors tend to spend less in France than elsewhere, something the government has been trying to change by extending store opening hours and improving the much maligned customer service.
Fabius warned back in 2014 that the famed French surliness was a pothole on the road to tourism victory: “The logic is simple. An unhappy tourist is a tourist who never comes back.”
The TripAdvisor website frequently votes Paris the rudest city in Europe, and the Paris Tourist Board went as far as to issue service industry workers a “politeness manual” back in 2013.
Despite these hurdles, Fabius said, “I hope that the number of tourists will surpass 85 million this year.” He added that he expected those visitors also to increase the amount they spent.
The tourist boost comes as welcome news for the government, which has been struggling to reverse high unemployment and boost growth, which stagnated in the second quarter after expanding by 0.7 percent in the first.
Global events hitting tourism?
The weakening of the euro and recent terrorist attacks in North Africa have also helped attract visitors to Paris, about one-third of whom come from outside France.
Fabius said there had been limited impact on tourism to Paris after the attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January. And although the numbers of visitors to Paris has remained stable this year, reservations at hotels are actually down, said the minister.
There is also the impact from a downturn in visits from wealthy Russians and Brazilians as their economies falter, and fears among US visitors of rising anti-semitism in France.
“Some attribute this drop to the development of AirBnB,” said Fabius, referring to a website that helps property owners rent out their homes or rooms to visitors.
Competition with AirBnB has hurt hotel companies such as Accor and Pierre et Vacances, and has even begun to affect bookings at luxury hotels such as the Plaza and the Bristol.
Paris has become the No. 1 destination for Airbnb users – and is increasingly attracting wealthy renters. Airbnb currently has on offer between 380 and 400 Paris apartments at over €500 a night and, of those, about 40 charge over €1,000.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)