Skip to main content

France admits it needs to be friendlier to visitors

By Barry Neild, CNN
updated 12:59 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
Officials say France's tourism industry needs to work harder to safeguard billions of dollars in revenue.
Officials say France's tourism industry needs to work harder to safeguard billions of dollars in revenue.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • French ministers say their country could try harder to welcome visitors
  • Fleur Pellerin warns situation must improve or $16 billion annual tourism revenues could be hit
  • Plans unveiled to reform restrictive retail hours and drive to improve non-French languages

(CNN) -- It's a big nation that can take a long hard look at itself and reach the conclusion it might be a bit rude toward tourists.

France, which regularly tops lists of countries that are surly to travelers, appears to be waking up to the notion this might not actually be good for business.

While not exactly prompting a full-blown existential crisis, the admission does seem to have led to discussions on how to make its boulevards and brasseries more inviting.

"We must rediscover the meaning of hospitality," Innovation Minister Fleur Pellerin told a tourism conference last week. "Everyone recognizes we can do better on the welcome and quality of service."

This won't be news to anyone who's visited Paris in recent years and received Gallic shrugs of indifference from waiters or hoteliers.

Neither is it the first time that France has done some soul searching about its attitudes.

MORE: Eight ways Lyon outshines Paris

Targeted by pickpockets

Last year Parisian tourism and trade officials launched a manual offering advice to service industry employees on how to befriend the various nationalities that flock to the city.

Problems apparently persist -- not helped by a 2013 crime wave in which crowds of Chinese tourists were reportedly targeted by pickpockets.

A six-day strike by French air traffic controllers that's expected to create major delays for travelers this week is also unlikely to burnish the nation's image.

Pellerin said France mustn't "rest on its laurels" at a time when the country badly needs the annual $16 billion injection that tourism provides to its economy.

Her comments came as Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, said in an interview that he wants to push through new measures to attract visitors.

He told BFMTV that he was involved with discussions to ease France's restrictive Sunday trading laws to open up more shops in Paris.

Fabius said he hopes improved road and rail links between the capital and Charles de Gaulle Airport will also improve matters.

As might a drive to encourage more tourism industry workers to learn other languages.

MORE: Eiffel Tower celebrates 125 years

Shifting attitudes

Fabius said it's "essential" that people understand that any tourist "whether French or foreign -- is someone we should welcome."

Some, however, say that France is at least making progress.

"I think that, on the whole, French attitudes have shifted and that French people are more courteous with tourists than they used to be," French commentator and journalist Agnes Poirier told CNN.

"They are also more likely to be able to speak English and give indications.

"It is difficult for Parisians to simply ignore tourists. They know tourists spend a lot, and are a vital element of the country's prosperity, and should therefore be well treated."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
These quirky and beautiful subway stops make standing cheek-to-cheek with 45 strangers almost seem fun.
updated 8:14 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
A scene from a desert safari in Dubai
Luxury vintage Land Rover tours explore Bedouin backwaters without bashing up precious dunes.
updated 9:50 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Cities around the world have closed the brew gap, but the Oregon city's innovative scene continues to lead the beer parade.
updated 5:49 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
From gourmet hotdogs to Sevillian tapas, the food served in these London restaurants is worth lining up for.
updated 10:45 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Plans are underway to build the world's tallest -- and quite possibly most terrifying -- roller coaster at an Orlando, Florida, theme park due to open in 2017.
updated 2:32 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
The 7th Annual Cruise Critic Editors' Picks Awards highlight the top cruise lines for North American travelers in 18 categories.
updated 9:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Joining the ranks of pilgrims tackling Adam's Peak rewards with a spiritual awakening, or at least a stunning sunrise.
updated 8:13 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
The cover of Norway's new passport design
Beautifully designed travel document reveals image of Northern Lights when placed under UV light.
updated 12:25 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Properties in the Italian village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio have been converted into a high end hotel spread through the village.
New concept offering luxury rooms in ancient dwellings helps spare beautiful villages from falling into ruin.
updated 5:47 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Are you the butcher or the cattle? Tainted meat-obsessed fans are following the tracks of their favorite "Walking Dead" survivors.
updated 12:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
People never cease to find amazing ways to make water more incredible than it already is. Here are some powerful examples
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT