Tourism plays a major role in the French economy. Traditional tourism sectors such as accommodation and food services, account for approximately 6% of GDP, but tourism also acts as an engine of growth for many other sectors. Total internal tourism consumption, which combines tourism-related spending by both French residents and non-residents, represents over 7% of GDP, with two-thirds of the total impact of tourism is accounted for by French residents. Direct tourism employment accounts for 1.4 million jobs, and over 2 million when considering indirect jobs. Tourism contributes positively to the balance of payments, with the tourism balance typically contributing between EUR 14 - 17 billion annually. Travel exports accounted for 22.2% of total service exports in 2018.

Inbound tourism arrivals stood at just under 90 million in 2018, an increase of 3.0% from 2017. Thanks to heightened security measures and additional marketing efforts, visitor numbers have recovered from the drop that occurred in 2016 as a consequence of the 2015 terrorist attacks. In 2018, international tourism revenues were estimated at EUR 57 billion. EU countries account for 69% of all international arrivals, with the top three countries (United Kingdom, Germany and the Benelux countries) accounting for over 46%. A further 10% of visitors come from the Americas and 6.8% come from Asia.

Domestic tourism accounted for 897.6 million nights in 2018, up 0.2% over 2017. 268.2 million domestic trips were taken in the same year, of which 189.8 million were overnight.

Since 2014, responsibility for tourism policy is shared between the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, which promotes France abroad as a tourist destination, and the Ministry of the Economy and Finance, which is responsible for the regulatory framework.

An Inter-Ministerial Tourism Council meets twice a year under the chair of the Prime Minister, with the aim of encouraging ministries and departments working in tourism-related areas to move forward with priority projects. It is supported by a Steering Council chaired by the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, which meets in the intervening period.

Policy implementation involves two agencies under state control. Atout France, which is responsible for promoting France abroad, has the legal form of a group of economic interests which brings additional flexibility to its mission and sourcing of funds. Its budget is typically between EUR 70 - 75 million, with around half of this figure being state subsidy. The National Agency for Holiday Vouchers is an agency responsible for broadening access to holidays.

At a territorial level, public governance of tourism concerns all levels. Each region is required to set up a Regional Tourism Committee, as well as preparing a regional tourism development plan setting out medium-term objectives and the terms governing policy implementation. Regions are also responsible for collecting tourism-related data, and for co-ordinating public and private initiatives in the fields of tourist information, development and promotion. Departmental tourism development schemes are prepared based on the guidelines outlined in the plans produced by regions, and Departmental Tourism Committees must also be established. At local level, municipalities granted powers to act in tourism-related fields can set up tourist offices to provide tourist information and promote the tourism offering, and may also market tourist services.

To improve the co-ordination of tourism, a Strategic Tourism Committee was established as a framework for sharing information between sectors and for constructive collaboration on public policy (particularly as regards the mobility of employees in the sector). Stakeholders from all tourism-adjacent sectors are invited to join.

Tourism benefits indirectly from state spending in other policy areas, including culture and heritage, transport infrastructure and environmental enhancement. Estimated total financial resources applied to tourism amounts to approximately EUR 5 billion.

The pattern of increasing tourist flows represents a key challenge in terms of the sustainability of tourism and its public acceptance. A high proportion of international tourist travel is concentrated in three French regions - the greater Paris area, the French Riviera, and the ski resorts of the Alps. In addition, the majority of French residents go on holiday to coastal regions, while the country’s mountain regions are seeking new areas of growth to mitigate the adverse impacts of global warming on winter pursuits. France’s tourism offer must therefore be structured more effectively, with target markets made more aware of its diversity.

During the 2017 Inter-ministerial Tourism Council meeting (CIT), the roadmap for tourism development was set and the Government agreed to focus action on six key areas:

  • Welcome and security - improvements in service standards have been achieved in particular through reduced visa waiting times and border crossing times at airports, while quality-related efforts are focused on modernising and promoting the Government’s Tourism Quality label (Qualité TourismeTM).

  • Dispersal - in order to attract and disperse international tourists across France, including its overseas territories. Key elements include the destination contracts policy, which brings together all parties involved in delivering a local tourist offer.

  • State support for investment - a major pillar of the Government’s strategy for improving the quality of the tourist offer and promoting better connectivity. This is achieved through deployment of the France Tourism Development Fund (France développement tourisme).

  • Training and employment - crucial in terms of service quality and playing a major role in combating unemployment given the number of jobs created by the industry.

  • Supporting digitalisation and information – specifically to increase the global competitiveness of France’s tourism industry. Key elements include development of the DATAtourisme portal, France NUMerique (box 2.8), Tourisme Lab incubator network and economic intelligence observatory, Veille Info Tourisme.

  • Broader access to holidays - in particular for people living with a disability, represents a social objective and a way to enhance the competitiveness of destinations;

The Inter-Ministerial Tourism Council meetings have subsequently be organised around these priority areas. At its January 2018 meeting, which covered topics relating to promotion and investment, the Council approved an increase in funding for the tourism industry from the government-backed guarantor agency, Caisse des dépôts, and public investment bank, Bpifrance, and agreed permanent arrangements for transferring a portion of visa revenues to Atout France to fund advertising targeted at international markets. The Council acknowledged at its meeting in July 2018 that progress had been made in the digital sector, and examined proposals for improving synergies between sport and tourism. The meeting held in May 2019 focused on employment and training and related governance issues. Topics discussed included schemes to help local authorities, including, organisational support for the development of tourism-related economic activities at heritage sites, a VAT refund scheme, and a new project aimed at simplifying the regulatory framework for tourism. A meeting scheduled for late 2019 will focus, in particular, on broadening access to holidays and sustainable tourism.

To bring forward co-ordinated action at the local level, destination contracts were formed in 2014 and are designed to encourage public-private partnerships around specific themes, with the aim of creating and promoting a clear and attractive offer for both national and international audiences. Each contract constitutes a commitment on the part of all interests to a shared tourism strategy, by means of actions which focus on the attractiveness of the offer and improved service quality. Destination contracts are a way of offsetting the disadvantages that arise from the very large number of public and private actors in the tourism industry and of bringing together local and national tourism strategies. While the investment of state funding is modest, this concept exercises considerable leverage. Twenty-three destination contracts were signed between 2015 and 2018, while a further eight were renewed in 2018.

France has responded to the development of digital platforms, which is particularly relevant to tourist accommodation. Accommodation in private homes has become a major component of the national offer, especially in cities, but does not always further the objectives of housing policy. In an effort to avoid obstructing the development of a dynamic new economy in furnished tourist rentals, while preserving housing market equilibrium, France has opted to take a regulatory approach, in particular through the adoption of the 2018 Law on Changes in Housing, Land Management and Digital Technology, or ELAN Law. Under this Law, in areas severely affected by rising housing prices, municipalities will be able to impose restrictions on second-home rentals and limit the length of time for which a primary residence can be rented to 120 days per year (this 120-day limit is also imposed on platforms).

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