France to spend big to spruce up tourism sector

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France to spend big to spruce up tourism sector

In a bid to attract 100 million visitors a year the French government is to set up a massive investment fund to boost a tourism industry many believe is in serious need of sprucing up. Ambitious plans are also to be revealed.


France is the world's most popular tourist destination with close to 84 million tourists visiting the country known as the Hexagon in 2014.

But the French government is not resting on its laurels: it has plans to boost this number to a neat 100 million by the end of the decade and has now decided to put its money where its mouth is.

"Tourism is a national treasure," said France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius on Thursday. "When you ask people around the world 'where they want to go?' 'France' is always the first answer".

To hit this ambitious target, authorities are planning to plough "hundreds of millions of euros" into an investment fund which will give hotels and other tourist establishments access to that most valuable of resources — ready cash.

The fund is the cornerstone of a mooted package of measures designed to give tourism in France a much-needed shot in the arm.

Around 40 "concrete proposals" are to be revealed later on Thursday, by the country's Council for the Promotion of Tourism.

France is at the top of the destination list but the welcome tourists receive is "not always extraordinary", French foreign minister Laurent Fabius conceded in an interview about the new package with the country's BFM TV television station.

Unveiling the plans to restore the golden glow to an industry tainted by travellers' tales of petty thefts and rickety transport infrastructure, Fabius painted broad brushstrokes.

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"We have to educate people so that they speak different languages, we need a publicity campaign on television, and we need to make sure people receive a good welcome when they arrive at airports," he said.

"Some hotels are ageing and there aren't enough high-quality hotels in winemaking regions," he added.

The foreign minister's comments then veered into the troublesome territory of online hotel booking, with Fabius calling on the country's tourism operators to step up their act on the digital front so they could better compete with more streamlined US-based sites. 

Whether or not the government-propelled drive to boost tourism numbers will pay off remains to be seen.

A cursory glance shows a sector in rude health, but a rise in the number of Chinese and Indian tourists flying in may be cloaking deeper problems.

A recent decision by workers at the Eiffel Tower to go on strike because of alleged threats from criminal gangs operating in the area captured global attention and put the spotlight on the French capital for all the wrong reasons.

Add to that strikes by railway staff and air traffic controllers and nagging doubts about the perceived rudeness of the French, and an investment fund may only be the tip of the iceberg.

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