Tourism in France: a "real national treasure"
Press conference by Mr. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development
Thank you, Mayor, chère Anne, for welcoming us to this magnificent venue [the Eiffel Tower], which symbolizes France. [...]
TOURISM/IMPACT OF 2015 PARIS ATTACKS
Yes, we’re here in a place where we can look out on the situation in France. We must face up to that situation, but with pride and confidence too. We mustn’t deny the problems—and Anne Hidalgo and Jérôme Chartier [Deputy Chair of Ile-de-France region] mentioned them—, but at the same time we must see where our assets lie, our strengths. And sometimes we don’t see them enough ourselves. At the weekend I was reading in the German weekly Der Spiegel, which is sometimes a bit harsh and ironic about us, an especially laudatory report entitled "[Paris,] The undefeated beauty", addressing Parisians and therefore, in a way, France, which—following last year’s attacks, and particularly those of 13 November—has continued to assert its fierce will to live, celebrate and welcome the whole world. It was a fine tribute, and it’s important to say it, because at the same time it’s a way for us to rally our support for tourism, which is a real national treasure and an essential component of our economy. Tourism, as you pointed out, also means real influence in the world.
Tourism today is a strategic sector, accounting for 7% of our economy, a net annual surplus of more than €5 billion for our balance of payments, and two million non-relocatable jobs. It’s a fully-fledged economic sector and it must be developed even further.
It’s an activity that is booming worldwide. There are currently a billion tourists, and that’s expected to double by 2030. France must play its full role in this development and not rest on its laurels. It must pursue a strategy for the growth of tourism in our country. Indeed, our goal, as I pointed out when I took office in February, is to welcome 100 million tourists a year to France by 2020.
We have considerable strengths, and a great deal has been done to facilitate hospitality, investment and training. Thanks to these efforts, and despite the difficulties, in 2015 we saw very good results, and having welcomed nearly 85 million visitors, we’re still the world’s leading tourist destination.
The efforts have started bearing fruit: 2015 was marked by a spectacular rise of nearly 23% in Asian visitors. Issuing visas more quickly—in 48 hours, indeed 24 hours for groups—contributed a great deal to this, particularly in China, where more than 800,000 visas were granted in 2015.
The bloody attacks of 13 November 2015 interrupted this record progress, with, at the end of the year, many cancellations and journeys that did not materialize. The result was a drop in the number of international tourists arriving in Paris, with 15% fewer by the end of 2015.
EFFORTS TO WIN BACK TOURISTS
Although this erosion has gradually been easing at national level, Paris and the surrounding destinations are still suffering a decline in visits. The situation demands a determined reaction by the state and all its players—first and foremost the regional authorities—to win people back.
Indeed, winning people back is what drives me, in dialogue between all the partners—and I’m thinking of the city of Paris and the Ile-de-France region—but also with tourism professionals and partners. Since I took office, I’ve been setting out the broad lines of the plan to revitalize Destination France, with a justified effort for Paris and Ile-de-France.
It is indeed about setting the situation right, getting us back onto the path of growth, and to that end we need to work together, hand in hand, as you’re showing in Paris and Ile-de-France.
Mayor, your recent joint visit to Tokyo with Valérie Pécresse, Chair of the Regional Council, made a strong impact, and it was still being talked about in Japan when I was there last month for the launch of Operation Bonjour France, which is under way in several capitals around the world. Your initiative was mentioned to me, and your symbolic presence had a real impact. We must continue in this direction.
Regaining the confidence of tourists obviously means a constant effort in terms of security. This effort is being made to the full, and its goal is to maintain the excellent welcome our visitors expect from our country. In addition to stepping up checks, the most innovative and high-performance technologies enable us to reconcile the imperative of maximum security with a concern for our visitors’ comfort.
The PARAFE system is currently being deployed in airports. It enables us to guarantee the essential checks while easing the flow of passengers and therefore improving their first impressions on arriving in France.
These investments must be further increased. So I’ve proposed that significant resources be devoted to developing new security technologies to benefit tourism. In June the government will unveil the broad lines of the forthcoming Investing in the Future programme: a significant share will be devoted to this and, more broadly, to developing tourism and to all the innovative technologies that enable us to improve our performance.
At the same time, we must inform people about the situation in France and what we’re capable of providing. That’s the purpose of the campaign we’re launching together, which is being rolled out in 16 countries that are also strategic markets and themselves account for 83% of international visits to France. Those countries are in Europe, like Germany and the United Kingdom, in emerging regions, like Brazil and India, where there’s considerable potential for progress, and on other continents which have ties of history and friendship with France, like the United States.
For the majority of tourists coming from those countries, Paris is a gateway to many other destinations in France. That’s why the main aspect of the campaign is focused on the capital.
The campaign has a threefold objective:
- First of all, to restore the confidence of foreign tourists and reassure them about hospitality and security conditions.
- Secondly, to boost Paris’s attractiveness, and that’s the only way to make up for the loss of earnings suffered by professionals in the city and the region.
- Finally, to showcase our way of life and put forward a positive image of Destination France. [...]
This campaign is possible because the Paris tourism office, the Ile-de-France regional tourism committee and Atout France are fully involved in a partnership bringing together businesses, which immediately stepped up to the plate, and I thank them for it. I invite everyone with energy, talent and skills to join this drive, as part of this remarkable surge of solidarity and collective mobilization.
In practical terms, the campaign includes a traditional aspect of publicity that we’re going to see in airports, in the press and via the partners’ communication resources. In this respect, I’d like to pay tribute to Jean-Claude Decaux, a partner in the campaign, with his innovative equipment, who has done so much for Paris and France.
The campaign also includes a specific aspect on the e-reputation of Paris and France, particularly on social media. Finally, the campaign includes a specific aspect devoted to welcoming teachers, tour operators, journalists, bloggers and all influential professionals who can highlight everything our country has to offer.
I hear the concerns being expressed about the potential impact on tourism of the social unrest our country is currently facing. France has always managed to face up to the difficult periods it has experienced.
This is a short-term situation, which is not representative of a permanent situation in France and does not call our tradition of hospitality into question. Tourists who regularly visit France know this. My responsibility as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development is to do everything to ensure that the tourists who visit our country can do so under the best conditions.
As with the hosting of COP21 in December 2015, which some who were worried about the risks wanted to cancel, France has taken up the challenge. We made it a success together, and I think this also impressed our partners. First of all, the political act, with the Paris Agreement, remains very powerful as a lever of sustainable economic development on a global scale—it’s an extraordinary achievement—, and above all, managing to make the event a success in France such a short time after the Paris attacks is still being hailed as very brave and showed our ability to face up to things.
We’ll also have Euro 2016, which is going to kick off in a few days’ time and will provide an opportunity to demonstrate our hospitality. Let me add that a specific campaign will be rolled out in the sporting competition’s host cities to welcome foreign tourists. It’s a chance to use the event as a lever, as an opportunity, because it’s important to remind our compatriots that tourism presents a tremendous opportunity for employment, economic development and our country’s global influence. It also enables us to pass on our values, the values that have shaped the image of a France open to the world, welcoming and friendly. In this area too, ours is a great country with countless strengths.
It’s up to us—all the stakeholders in the tourism industry and the world of culture, together with elected representatives—to play an active role, and this press conference is a call for mobilization, and I’m sure that if everyone continues doing their bit, putting their hearts and minds into it, then we’ll succeed. Thank you. [...]
Q. – A lot of potential visitors are unsure whether to come to France; how can they be reassured, particularly when it comes to the fan zones, which could be places for huge celebration but carry risks?
THE MINISTER – I’m going to add to what the Mayor said. There are matches in the stadiums and members of the public who aren’t going to get into these stadiums. Millions of visitors and thousands of journalists will be coming to Euro 2016, and if we compare it to another experience, the 1998 football World Cup, there were only stadiums; in the cities there were public places and spaces open to other spectators, but there was no special security. The major difference is that to get into a fan zone—and the public’s expectations are high—there will be very strict arrangements. We’ll have the same screening rules and video surveillance as for the stadiums, and organizing fan zones is a plus for security.
Your question is legitimate if you’re looking from the outside. You can explain that in these fan zones—including the one at the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower—spectators will be able to come together to watch the matches with maximum security guaranteed. We’ll have all the security staff, including 72,000 police and gendarmes, mobilized on a huge scale, plus private companies and volunteers. There’s a real mobilization so that people can come to this event with peace of mind. [...]
Q. – Seen from abroad, Paris is synonymous with violent demonstrations, police being attacked...
THE MINISTER – But you’ve got to keep things in perspective as well. I mentioned the German magazine Der Spiegel, which is occasionally ironic and critical vis-à-vis France, and which has produced an excellent special feature on France, and on Paris and the Paris area in particular, showing the response of Parisians in terms of getting on with life, partying, sharing values and making sure that Paris is still a welcoming city. [...] We’ve got to come up with reasons for being hopeful and having confidence, and that’s the message I wanted to get across today. It’s an appeal to all tourists—sports tourists or otherwise—to come to France, and they know they’ll be welcome.
Q. – Should I advise my Swedish compatriots to go to the fan zones?
THE MINISTER – Of course; the fan zones are secure areas. For the 1998 World Cup, which took place in France, there were no fan zones but cities had big screens in public places, with minimum security. Now, entering a fan zone is exactly like entering a stadium. There are checks and video surveillance, a huge police presence, and no one will enter a fan zone without being checked. It’s a plus and a reassurance for our visitors, because football is a celebration people must be able to share. Not having fan zones would be a mistake in terms of security.
Q. – But a criminologist close to the Prime Minister has said it was a magnet for terrorists.
THE MINISTER – He doesn’t propose any alternative. It would have been a mistake to repeat what we did in 1998 with giant screens in public spaces. We’ve taken the bull by the horns and come up with security solutions. You won’t stop people celebrating in the street—remember the Champs Elysées, on 31 December 2015; the initial temptation was to close it, but everyone came out and it was a fantastic moment with no major incident. We have to trust everyone to act responsibly, whilst at the same time not being naïve and increase security checks. Today the fan zones are a means of stepping up security, put in place by the Interior Minister.
Q. – What about the resources mobilized for Euro 2016?
THE MINISTER – Never have we mobilized as many resources—human and surveillance [resources]—to ensure security inside and also outside the stadiums. Some people have criticized the fan zones, demanding their closure. This would be a mistake because the fan zones will be the most secure, controlled places in terms of human resources, so that those who want to experience the emotion of a sporting event together can do so in safety. It’s important for French people and all our foreign hosts to hear this message so that they tell each other it’s worthwhile coming to France. Admittedly there isn’t a 100% guarantee of security; everyone is threatened by terrorist risks, but France, which suffered those terrible tragedies last year, has stepped up its human screening and security resources and we want—as we demonstrated during COP21—to show that we’re capable of hosting a major event and doing so in complete security.