French Make Effort to Stop Alienating Tourists

Be nicer, ministers request

Despite its beautiful appearance, France is known for its mean streets and (allegedly) mean locals. (Sergey Borisov/ThinkStock)
Photo: Sergey Borisov/ThinkStock Eiffel Tower france french tourism be nicer hospitality outdoors outside magazine outside online; Despite its beautiful appearance, France is known for its mean streets and (allegedly) mean locals.

Remember how kind the locals were when you visited Paris? No? Well, the French government is hoping to make "nice" mean more to its citizens than the name of a city.

Yesterday, ministers unveiled a new strategy for boosting tourism at the end of a national conference on the matter, with the biggest takeaway being a need to "recover a sense of hospitality," according to commerce minister Fleur Pellerin.

"The logic is simple," finance minister Laurent Fabius said. "An unhappy tourist is a tourist that never comes back."

France hasn't had a problem getting people to visit. The trouble, it appears, has been making their visits worth it for the host country. A 2013 United Nations study found that France attracted more foreign visitors than any other country in 2012. However, the study showed that visitors don't buy much while wandering through parks, boutiques, and cafes; France came in behind the top 10 most-visited countries in terms of money spent per visitor.

Apart from making mental notes to hold doors and smile, France's strategy for getting (and retaining) tourists includes opening shops on Sundays, making visas easier to acquire, and renovating Paris's Gare du Nord, the reportedly dismal-looking rail station that greets France-bound British visitors.

Why such a big to-do about a rail station? The British-French rivalry has been more prominent lately. In January, Le Figaro reported that London is the most-visited European city, stripping Paris (15.9 million visitors a year) of the honor. Apparently, Gare du Nord pales in comparison to the British station at the other end, and France is looking for any means to strengthen its claim to tourism superiority.

The tourism ministry's blatant directive to be nicer follows a 2013 issuance of "politeness manuals" by the Paris Tourist Board. It seems follow-up was needed.

The French are aiming for 100 million tourists annually by 2015, with particular interest in Chinese visitors. This is a big step up from the roughly 83 million people the country currently attracts.

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