To say 2016 was a difficult year for France would be something of an understatement. Terrorist attacks on Paris and Nice resulted in widespread panic and fears over safety, and many suggested these concerns would impact the country's booming tourism industry, particularly in densely populated areas such as the capital.
Despite this however, France remained the world's most popular tourist destination in 2016, according to the latest report from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO). Welcoming 82.6 million visitors last year, France retained its crown from 2015 and comfortably beat the United States, who saw themselves in second place with 75.6 million tourist visits. Safety concerns did have an impact on tourists, with the numbers down 2.2 per cent on the previous year, but the decline was far less serious than many had predicted. It would seem the appeal of France's myriad options for tourists (not to mention the food and drink) remains too strong a pull, even in the face of global terrorism .
Now, France's foreign ministry is estimating significant growth for this year, with Q2 2017 seeing an impressive 10.4 per cent increase in hotel bookings over the same period last year. These numbers have led to a prediction of a 5-6 per cent increase overall for 2017, with Macron's government suggesting 88m to 89m tourists will visit the country this year. The foreign ministry has also confirmed a target that was initially set in 2014, aiming for 100 million international visits in 2020.
All of this will make for welcome reading for a country that's had it tough in the last 12 months, but in particular for those who make their money from the tourism industry. According to the UNTWO report, France was fifth in terms of tourist spending in 2016, with international visitors putting around 40bn Euros into the French economy last year.
While that may seem like a lot (and of course it is), it's less than you might expect for a country that welcomes more visitors than any other each year. The World Bank notes that the US, the United Kingdom, Spain and China all take more money from tourism than France - an issue that the country aims to address over the next ten years.
According to French consultancy firm Protourisme, France welcomes 20 per cent more tourists than Spain, but sees 25 per cent less in terms of tourism expenditure. The firm has suggested that the disparity comes from a combination of short stay visitors (approximately 15 per cent of all tourists to France only stay for a day or two), and visitors who are only making a brief stop in France on their way to other European destinations.
The French government appear committed to addressing this problem however, revealing plans at the end of July to increase tourist spending to 50bn Euros by 2020, creating an additional 300,000 jobs in the tourism sector in the process. These plans include making it easier for visitors from Asia and Russia to get a tourist visa, and allowing Chinese visitors to get a visa in just 48 hours.