France, the world’s #1 tourist destination

Written by admin on June 8, 2009 – 5:33 pm -

Eighty million people can’t be wrong. That’s how many visited France last year. France must be doing something right. According to the French Ministry of the Economy, the country leads in attracting foreigners. Some people may simply be passing through on the way to final destinations because of France’s central European location and airlines’ use of Paris as a hub. But many people stay.

The world had its eyes on France this past weekend when many watched the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Normandy invasion on television. They saw people gather to salute the veterans and heard U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy speak at the ceremony.  People couldn’t help but view a bit of the beauty of that area of the country and realize there’s history bonding the U.S. and France.

After the ceremony in Normandy, the Obama family spent time in Paris touring the City of Light. How exciting the sites must have been for just eight-year-old Sasha and ten-year-old Malia. They’ll have a lot to tell their friends and classmates. No child leaves the Eiffel Tower without stars in their eyes – even ones who live in the White House. Notre Dame Cathedral is always incredible as is the Seine and Paris by night.

In spite of the global economic downturn, there was only a .3 percent decrease in the number of people who came to France in 2008 than in 2007.

Thierry Baudier, CEO of the recently formed tourist entity, Atout France, and New York based Director Americas Jean-Phillipe Perol, have staged major marketing campaigns targeting Americans. The French did not condone the U.S. involvement in Iraq and some Americans feared there would be anti-American sentiments.

But  they held nothing against Americans as individuals. If an Anglophone visitor attempts to speak French in Paris, I’ll wager they will receive a response in English, especially in hotels and restaurants and service oriented businesses.

In spite of getting a bad rap, the French are incredibly gracious to Americans who are considered among the best visitors. The younger generation tends to like all things American, its movies, music and most especially Mickey Ds. France is the second largest market for the burger chain.

Tourism accounts for 6.9 percent of French GDP and is a high priority for the government. There were an estimated 45 million visitors in 2008. Between 2.5 and 3 million Americans come to France yearly and many are repeat visitors.

One explanation for so many American coming to France may be because they perceive France to be a good value, even with the strength of the euro against the dollar. Once you get out of Paris (much in the same way as in other major cities such as New York City), you can travel well and find decently priced hotels and restaurants, which serve wonderful meals, for a fraction of what you’d pay in Paris.

Another factor may be that Americans, as well as 78 million other people, love France for its food and wine. French chefs are fast to say many Americans are more knowledgeable about gastronomy than the French, who tend to take it for granted.

I’m prejudiced and appreciate so many things about France, its incredible wealth of culture and its diversity. It’s an easy country in which to travel because of high-speed trains and its highway system. The fact the entire country is only about 200,000 square miles (less than twice the size of the state of Colorado) makes France easy to tour in a finite period of time. As much as I love to travel and learn new things, not a day goes by when I am in Paris that I don’t discover something I’ve never seen before.

Do you think an increasing numbers of Americans will opt to visit France now that President Obama has embraced the country and the two presidents are making a conscious effort to work together?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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