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Visiting France

Record number of foreign tourists visit France in 2011

media Historic castles, beautiful countryside, sunny beaches (sometimes) attract … Tony Cross

A record number of tourists visited France last year with the greatest increase coming from Russia, China and Brazil. Over one million Chinese sampled the delights of French hospitality in 2011 but the largest source of tourists remained the rest of Europe.

2010 was already a record year for French tourism with 77.6 million visitors heading for the beaches, châteaux and restaurants.

But 2011 topped that with 81.4 million foreign tourists defying economic uncertainty, staying on average 10 days longer and spending an estimated 33.4 billion euros, 8.4 per cent more than in 2010.

Figures produced by the state-run economic monitor DGCIS show:

  • Russia, China, Brazil up 17 per cent, the sharpest rise but at half the rate in 2009 and 2010;
  • The United States up 14 per cent to 3.3 million after three years’ decrease due to the subprime crisis;
  • Japan up 4.3 per cent despite the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster;
  • Europe up 3.1 per cent to 67.8 million, the largest group despite a fall for crisis-hit Portugal, Ireland and Greece.

France is the most popular tourist destination in the world but is only third, behind the US and Spain, in income earned from tourism.

Interactive map of France

Despite a not undeserved reputation for a certain brusqueness, French tourism professionals are making an effort, especially to court new tourists from emerging economies. 

Some of Paris's poshest hotels and restaurants have started to take on employees who can speak Chinese, Russian or Brazilian Portuguese.

But no-one loves visiting France as much as the French themselves. They spent 67.4 billion euros on holiday in their own country last year, up 10.9 per cent largely due to price rises in hotels, campsites and restaurants.

But French touristic patriotism does not rule out going overseas. A fair proportion visited exotic destinations like Réunion island in the Indian Ocean or Martinique and Guadeloupe in the French West Indies.

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