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French tourism rebounds two years after start of terror attacks

Ludovic Marin, AFP | People walk near the Eiffel Tower in central Paris on February 7, 2017.

Tourism is on the rise in France after two years of deadly terrorist attacks that hurt one of the country’s major economic motors, official figures published on Tuesday revealed.


The last three months of 2016 saw tourism in France rebound by nearly 4 percent, after a dramatic downturn last year that put the country’s hospitality industry on alert, according to the INSEE national statistics agency.

The number of overnight stays among French nationals rose 4.3 percent in the third quarter of 2016, as compared to the same period in 2015, while stays among foreign visitors increased by 2.9 percent. INSEE said those figures offset the decline (-1.8 percent) experienced between 2015 and 2016.

Pascale Gallet, managing director of France’s National Union of Tourist Residences (SNRT), confirmed that INSEE’s figures for 2016 were part of a palpable trend, adding that members of her group reported the positive trend continued into 2017.

“Feedback from January shows tourism is still on the rise, and almost everything is booked at ski resorts now,” Gallet, whose group represents apartment hotels, told FRANCE 24.

Christian Mantei, who spearheads the country’s tourism development agency Atout France, also said 2017 was off to a promising start.

“International airport arrivals [for January 2017] are higher than the figures for last year, but also higher than 2014,” Mantei told FRANCE 24 in an email message. “This is the case for both Paris and the rest of France.”


Help from neighbours

Tourism reeled in the wake of a series of jihadist-inspired attacks in France, which started with a bloody assault at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015.

The year 2016 was especially difficult for tourism, with a terror attack in the southeast city of Nice in July, but also a wave of violent labour strikes and record floods in the Paris region.

French nationals and European neighbours were the biggest contributors to the recent tourism uptick, while visitors from the United States, Britain and especially China and Japan still appeared reticent to return.

Visits from Belgian (9.9 percent), Spanish (7.7 percent) and Swiss (8 percent) tourists grew the fastest, INSEE figures showed. Holidays by German (5.3 percent) and American (1.9 percent) tourists also increased, but at a slower pace.

However, visits from British (-3.4 percent), Chinese (-6 percent) and Japanese (-19 percent) travellers continued to decline.

“We still have not reclaimed our long-haul clients from America and Asia,” the SNRT’s Gallet admitted, adding that British tourists “are still a big question mark”.

State of emergency

France declared a state of emergency following the November 2015 attacks, which targeted the Bataclan concert hall and Stade de France sports arena, as well as café and bar terraces in the capital. The emergency decree was extended by several parliamentary votes and remains in force.

A suspected terror attack on a group of soldiers on patrol outside the Louvre museum last week could endanger the modest recovery.

INSEE revealed tourism in France’s provincial cities (6.9 percent) was increasing at a faster rate than in Paris (4.5 percent).

While the tourism industry has been one of the indirect victims of terrorism, France continues to be one of the most popular travel destination in the world. Around 85 million foreign visitors came to the country in 2015, according to Atout France.

The agency says France’s tourism industry directly or indirectly employs 2 million people and accounts for 7.43 percent of the country’s GDP.

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