Q. – France is the world champion in tourism. Why be concerned?
THE MINISTER – Because we’re experiencing a paradox. On the one hand, France is indeed in a very positive situation. It’s still the leading country in terms of foreign tourist numbers, and the industry employs more than two million people. But on the other hand, in terms of revenue, we rank only third. Spain receives around 30% fewer tourists than France, depending on the year, but it gets an extra 10% – indeed, more – revenue because people stay there longer. In our country, many people come to Paris but then don’t visit our regions, or they stay there too short a time.
Competition is developing. Given the boom and the changes the industry is going to experience in the next few years, we must correct our shortcomings.
Q. – What are they?
THE MINISTER – First priority: the offer. It must be of good quality and diversified. We’ve decided to put together five areas of excellence.
The future investment programme will fund them to the tune of €15 million. The first brings together gastronomy and wine tourism; the second, sport and mountains; the third, ecotourism; the fourth concerns all expertise (arts and crafts, luxury goods, etc.); and the fifth, urban tourism.
Q. – How can tourist reception facilities be improved?
THE MINISTER – Steps have already been taken. Others will be taken regarding [Paris] Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport and the Gare du Nord, particularly the renovation of the Eurostar terminal. When you compare it to St Pancras in London – we must forge ahead.
Ministers decided, during a deliberation session, to carry out what’s long been talked about: the Roissy Express link. The financing plan will be settled in 2015 at the latest, with work starting in 2017. The aim is to provide a 20-minute link to and from the capital. From 1 January 2015, taxis and buses will have their own motorway lane from Roissy. On the same date, after the necessary consultations, a reasonable flat rate for taxis will be established. It’s important to provide this transparency.
Q. – And tourist safety?
THE MINISTER – Bernard Cazeneuve, the Interior Minister, has drawn up a tourism safety plan, which provides for a 20% increase in the number of police at the main tourist sites in Paris, with special brigades at the Gard du Nord and on the Champs Elysées.
Q. – You recently relaxed the issuing of visas. What do you think has been the result of this?
THE MINISTER – Getting a French visa in China in 48 hours is a great success. We’ve issued between 30% and 250% more than before.
We’re going to extend this measure in particular to include several of the Gulf countries, South Africa and India, without checks being affected. We’ve also decided, with immediate effect and wherever possible, to do away with the requirement to provide [confirmation of] hotel bookings in order to get visas.
During the second half of 2014, a law is going to bring in the “skills passport”, for stays of up to four years, destined for people starting up companies, and company directors.
Q. – Our country isn’t in the vanguard in this field.
THE MINISTER – France can’t have regulations different from those of the other European countries on this. Just because we have political differences with this or that country doesn’t mean we must penalize it through visas. It’s about whether there’s a migratory risk, but visas don’t act as ideological safety nets.
Q. – Those in the profession are calling for more businesses to be able to open on Sundays. What about you?
THE MINISTER – A bill will be presented on the subject before the end of the year. Moreover, in Paris – without prejudice to the powers of the city council, which intends to carry out consultation with the partners concerned – the government would like certain areas, like Boulevard Haussmann, to be classified as “exceptionally busy tourist areas”, enabling businesses to open on Sundays. We’d like the same flexibility at train stations.
Q. – What other measures do you intend to bring into play?
THE MINISTER – We have a lot of progress to make in speaking foreign languages. This will be included in the hotel rankings and give rise to bonus points. We also aim to make holidays accessible to a wider public. A fund of €75 million, with the Caisse des Dépôts [et Consignations – savings and banking institution] will enable us to upgrade the tourist provision accessible to low-income households (hotels, holiday centres). In the second half of the year, the government will issue a simplification ruling, including a tourism section to simplify complex and even contradictory building, planning, security, accessibility and environmental legislation.
Q. – How can the effort be continued over the long term?
THE MINISTER – In order for the conference to bring results, next month I’m going to establish, under my responsibility, a Council for the Promotion of Tourism, which will be responsible for defining a tourism plan for 2020.
The sector is going to develop considerably. The figures are striking: 25 million tourists in the 1950s, a billion today, two billion expected in 2030. So the ambition is simple and strong: to remain the world’s leading country for tourism. The 2020 working group will be able to set itself quantifiable targets. If we welcome 5% of the additional billion tourists [expected] by 2030, we can virtually double the surplus tourism brings to our external trade balance – currently €12 billion – and considerably reduce our deficit, while also creating hundreds of thousands of jobs that can’t be relocated./.