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TOURISM

France retains title of world’s top tourist destination

The number of foreign visitors to France rose last year to allow France to keep its crown as most visited country in the world. And that's despite the terror attacks.

France retains title of world's top tourist destination
Photo: AFP

The number of foreign visitors to France grew in 2015 despite jihadist attacks in Paris thanks to a sharp rise in tourists
from Asia, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Friday.

France retained its crown as the world's top tourist destination with a total of 84.5 million visitors last year, an increase of 0.9 percent on 2014.

Ayrault said the attacks on bars, a concert hall and the national stadium on November 13 that killed 130 people “limited this growth, especially in the capital”.

He said a “spectacular rise” of 22.7 percent in the number of tourists from Asia accounted for much of the increase.

“The number of Chinese tourists passed the symbolic bar of two million for the first time, and reached 2.2 million,” Ayrault said.

More than half a million Indians also visited France.

In 2014, France reduced the time for visas to be issued to 48 hours for visitors from China, India and Singapore.

That helped to boost the number of visas issued to Chinese visitors by 38 percent in 2015, and to 48 percent for Indian tourists.

Visitor numbers from the United States were also up, by more than 15 percent, but there was a dip of 1.5 percent in the number of tourists from Europe, especially from Germany and Switzerland.

Visitors from Britain (up 3.3 percent), Italy and Spain helped compensate for the decrease.

In August last year, then-foreign minister Laurent Fabius said he hoped France would break through the barrier of 85 million visitors in 2015.

Ayrault said Friday his aim “remains to attract 100 million foreign tourists a year to France by 2020”.

Speaking whilst on a charm offensive in Singapore on Friday senior tourism official Matthias Fekl urged more south east Asian visitors to come to France, even if it meant they would have to overcome their fears of terrorism.

“Zero risk does not exist anywhere in the world anymore, this is today's reality,” Fekl, minister of state for foreign trade and tourism promotion, told reporters.

“But we have enhanced security and we will be very careful of course for every event.”

Fekl said France was determined to proceed with all scheduled culture and sporting events, including Euro 2016 which runs for a month from June 10.

“Nothing could be worse than to cancel things. Once the free countries start to cancel things, terrorists have won their fight,” he said.

Tourism in France accounts for seven to eight percent of national wealth and employs two million people, with those from Southeast Asia making up a large portion of the visitors.

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TOURISM

Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

COMPARE The Covid rules in place at ski resorts around Europe

Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.

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