Stronger dollar + bad economy = France travel boom?

Written by admin on January 13, 2009 – 1:26 pm -

France maintained its position as the world’s top destination last year, with 82 million foreign visitors setting foot on French soil — a four percent increase from the previous year. And now there’s another reason to visit Europe’s top tourist draw: a surging dollar.

The greenback is nearly 16 percent stronger than it was six months ago. Still, the balance of 2008 will undoubtedly be an entirely different scenario because of the global economy.

The French Ministry of Tourism noted the 2007 demographics have changed. Of the 82 million visitors, 14 million people were in transit. Some 68 percent were tourists whose primary destination was France, a four percent increase over 2006.

Europeans comprised 46 percent of the country’s visitors: Germans, Brits and Belgians were the main groups. However, the number of German tourists declined as Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Portugal experienced strong upswings in the tourism sector.

The number of Americans visiting France increased by seven percent, although the rise in value of the euro against the dollar caused a slowdown among Americans during the fourth quarter of 2007.

Europeans spend an average of just under six nights in France while Americans spend eight nights and the Japanese five.

Paris tourism officials expect visits to the City of Light to hold up this year despite the dramatic drop in the number of visitors from the U.S. – many of whom are victims of fuel-inflated prices for airline tickets and the economic woes at home.

This year has not begun as a stellar year when it comes to Americans visiting Paris. Traditionally, it’s the number-one group of tourists but there’s already been a decrease of 20 percent. The number of UK visitors have overtaken the US numbers to become France’s primary market.

The French government tourism industry has mandated that people working in hotels and restaurants actually smile and perfect their English. This certainly doesn’t hurt the preconception many people erroneously have that the French aren’t friendly.

“Paris is also attracting more visitors from the Middle East, India, South America and Eastern Europe,” says Jean-Claude Lesourd, president of Paris’s Tourism Office. “The city is doing well and it’s forecast that 2008 will be an excellent year and perhaps even better than 2007.”

In spite of people feeling the economic pinch, Parisian hotels were able to raise prices in the first half by an average of 6.4 percent, according to figures complied by MKG Hospitality consultants. My guess is that hotels will be announcing many promotions for the end of this year and the first quarter of 2009.

So in spite of all of the reported doom and gloom, Paris and her glory will always be a magnet for people throughout the world.

Are you surprised? I’m not, but if I were, I’d be banging my head against the wall.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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