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France stays top of world tourism league, despite fall in 2016

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Paris's tourist trade suffered badly after 2015's terror attacks DR

The number of foreign tourists to France fell by about two million last year but the country remained the world's most popular destination with 82.5 million people visiting, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced on Friday.


Between 82.5 million and 83 million foreigners came to France in 2016, a fall of 1.3 percent from 2015's record of 85 million.

The November 2015 Paris attacks, Nice's Bastille Day massacre, freak floods in the summer and strikes against a controversial labour reform are all believed to have hit the tourism trade, which is a mainstay of the French economy.

Tourism in France, the figures
  • France is the world's number one tourist destination;
  • About 300,000 businesses and self-employed people work in the sector, up five percent on 2013;
  • Two million jobs depend on it, directly or indirectly;
  • Toursim provices 7.4 percent of France's GDP;
  • The government and tourism professinals aim to attract 100 million foreign visitors to France per year by 2020.

"France has suffered as a destination," Foreign Affairs Ministry Jean-Marc Ayrault told a press conference in the south-western town of Biarritz. "2016 was an exceptional year, with attacks, storms and strikes. There was a definite impact, especially on Japanese tourists."

Recovery in last quarter

Hotel bookings fell 5.7 percent in 2016, with Paris and the Côte d'Azur worst hit.

But they recovered in the last quarter, rising 3.9 percent, mainly because of French customers.

Air travel reservations to Paris have risen in 2017, according to the ministry, especially from Japan.

Three years ago French tourism chiefs set a target of attracting 100 million visitors a year to the country by 2020, also hoping that they would stay longer and spend more.

"A great deal of work remains to be done to ensure France remains a global destination," Ayrault commented.

With terror attacks still feared in the French capital, on Thursday the city of Paris announced plans to erect bulletproof glass walls to protect the Eiffel Tower, considered one of the most vulnerable potential targets.