Tourism in the economy

Tourism plays a major role in the French economy. The accommodation and food services sector, representing the largest part of the tourism sector, accounts for between 2.5% and 3% of GDP while the knock-on effects of tourism are also felt in other sectors, such as transport and leisure. Consequently, the total amount of internal tourism consumption, which combines tourism-related spending by both French residents and non-residents, represents around 7.5% of GDP (5% for residents, 2.5% for non-residents).

Direct and indirect employment related to tourism together account for over 2 million jobs. Tourism is one of the largest contributors to the balance of payments. However, between 2015 and 2016, the difference between spending by foreign tourists in France and spending by French tourists abroad fell from EUR 5 billion to EUR 1.8 billion. This unusual and disappointing result can be explained by the negative fallout from the terrorist incidents in 2015 and 2016.

Occupancy levels have also been temporarily affected by the terrorist attacks that took place both in France and in neighbouring countries. Occupancy rates of commercial group accommodation in mainland France fell by 1.3%. The decline was particularly marked among foreign visitors (down 5.1% in 2016), with the strongest negative impact on some Asian markets. This decline was partially offset by domestic travel: resident overnight stays rose by 0.5% between 2015 and 2016.

International arrivals to metropolitan France fell by 2.2% to 82.6 million in 2016, following several years of steady growth. However, in terms of tourist inflows, France remains the world’s leading destination. Around 40% of international arrivals come from the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium.

2017 is expected to be a year of solid recovery for the tourism industry in France. Occupancy statistics for the first three quarters of 2017 have been very positive.

Tourism governance and funding

Since 2014, responsibility for the government’s tourism strategy has been shared between the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, which promotes France abroad as a tourist destination, and the Ministry for the Economy and Finance, responsible for regulatory framework and access to holidays. The public administrations in charge are: the Directorate-General for Globalisation, Culture, Education and International Development, and the Directorate-General for Enterprise (DGE). Since July 2016, an Inter-ministerial Tourism Committee (CIT) has met regularly under the authority of the Prime Minister.

Policy implementation also involves two agencies under State control. Atout France, which is in charge of developing tourism sector and promoting France abroad, was set up as an Economic Interest Group to give additional flexibility to its missions and sourcing of funds. Its budget is over EUR 70 million, around half of which consists of a State subsidy paid by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs since 2015. The National Agency for Holiday Vouchers (ANVC) is responsible for broadening access to holidays.

Several layers of regional and local government share the responsibility of boosting tourism. Each region draws up a regional scheme for the development of leisure and tourism (Schéma Régional de Développement du Tourisme et des Loisirs (SRDTL) hat sets medium-term objectives for regional tourism development and determines the terms and conditions governing policy implementation (Box 1.2).

Tourism benefits indirectly from State spending in other policy areas, including culture and heritage (museums, renovation of historic monuments, etc.), transport infrastructure, and the environment. The total financial resources committed to tourism-related policies amounts to around EUR 2 billion (estimated and presented in a cross-cutting tourism policy document, appended to the annual draft budget bill).

France: Organisational chart of tourism bodies

Source: OECD, adapted from the Directorate-General for Enterprise, 2018.

Tourism policies and programmes

France, despite its natural and cultural resources and reputation for vibrant, artistic creativity, is subject to increasing competition from other destinations. A high proportion of international tourists travel to only three French regions which enjoy particularly high visibility abroad: the greater Paris area, the French Riviera, and the ski resorts of the Rhone-Alps region. There is a need to shape the French tourist offer and to promote its diversity. At the CIT meeting in July 2017, the government stated its intention to focus action on six key areas:

  • Service quality and site security to ensure tourist satisfaction and destination loyalty. Key elements will include speedier visa delivery and modernising and promoting the government’s Qualité Tourisme™ label.

  • Coordinating the tourist offer in order to attract a greater number of tourists across France, including its overseas territories. Key elements will include restructuring segments and niches, such as waterways tourism, and continuing the “destination contracts” policy which brings together all parties involved in delivering a local unique offer.

  • State support through investment in order to improve quality of offer, and encourage better connectivity. This will require better deployment of the “France développement tourisme” fund.

  • Training and employment, crucial to the quality of the service offer and a major factor in combating unemployment.

  • Supporting digitalisation and information sharing to increase the global competitiveness of the tourism industry. Key elements include development of the DATAtourisme project for open data, support for the France Tourisme Lab incubator network and modernisation of the economic intelligence observatory, Veille Info Tourisme.

  • Promoting access to holidays, especially for families, seniors and those people living with a disability, represents both a social objective and a factor in enhancing the competitiveness of destinations. Increasing accessibility will require modernisation and revamping of the brands Tourisme et Handicap and Destination pour tous (Box 1.17).

Several priority projects were launched at this meeting, including the aim to deliver visas within 48 hours for ten new countries by June 2018; cutting clearance times for airport border control to 30 minutes for EU nationals and 45 minutes for all other arrivals as of 1 January 2018; and establishing a maintenance programme for motorways between airports in the greater Paris area and the capital.

CIT also agreed on a new form of governance, setting out a method for inter-ministerial coordination. Regular meetings are to be scheduled over several years, with pre-defined agenda items, such as the rehabilitation of leisure properties and financing of promotion activities. These high-level discussions will allow in-depth preparatory work to be carried out by the administrations concerned, leading to implementation of concrete measures.

Three different steps taken by government illustrate the priority given to tourism.

  • Following the recent terrorist attacks the Minister for Foreign Affairs called two emergency meetings for tourism (July and September 2016), which allowed industry professionals to present their concerns and voice their expectations. After the second meeting, the government unlocked EUR 10 million of special funding to step up the promotional activities of Atout France – who were asked to match approximately the same amount through other sources. This emergency plan was established by the end of 2016 and implemented during 2017, and these efforts partly explain the recovery experienced in 2017.

  • An innovative form of State intervention, in the form of “destination contracts”, which are designed to rally public and private stakeholders in a given territory around inspiring themes, with the aim of creating and promoting an attractive, intelligible offer for national and international audiences. Each destination contract sets out the commitment of public authorities, institutional and private tourism stakeholders to a shared tourism strategy, by means of actions which focus on the attractiveness of the offer, service quality and promotion to target international markets. The destination contract brings together local and national tourism strategies. The investment of State money is modest, but has a positive ripple effect on other actors’ contributions, creating therefore a considerable leverage. Twenty-two destination contracts were selected following calls for projects in October 2014 and June 2015.

  • Developing appropriate regulatory responses to the increased use of digital platforms, and in particular those affecting tourist accommodation. Accommodation in private homes has become a major share of the national offer, especially in cities. In an effort to avoid obstructing the development of a dynamic new economy in furnished tourist rentals, whilst protecting fair competition with the hotel sector, and increasing the accountability of digital platforms, France has opted to take a regulatory approach. Two measures, Article 51 of the Law of 7 October 2016 for a Digital Republic, and the decree of 28 April 2017 on the registration of certain furnished rentals in areas where housing is scarce, aim to strike a balance between the various interests at play and clarify the tax and social obligations of players in the sharing economy for furnished rentals.

Diversifying the tourism offer in France with a focus on niche markets

The state, by activating niche networks, and with limited financial investment, can help structure and diversify the tourism offer. For instance, the expansion of bicycle tourism was supported by the development of the national website, and the Accueil Vélo brand, awarded to accommodation providers, tourist offices, bicycle rental companies and visitor sites that cater to cyclists and meet precise criteria. Wine tourism is also recognised as having the potential to make a significant contribution to the development of rural tourism in France. Tourist activities around the wine routes are diversifying. The Vignobles & Découvertes brand, initiated by the ministers in charge of tourism and agriculture, labels territories structured around the discovery of a remarkable vineyards, with the aim of bringing more accessibility to customers and more visibility to the destination.  To date, 67 destinations have received the label. Atout France has created an information website dedicated to wine tourism (

Statistical profile

Table 1. France: Domestic, inbound and outbound tourism

Table 2. France: Enterprises and employment in tourism

Table 3. France: Internal tourism consumption
Million EUR