France looks at hosting Olympics sustainably

Zamira Ismatova

France’s tourism industry witnessed a remarkable resurgence last year with international visitors spending €59 billion by November 2023, an impressive increase of 12 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

The numbers are expected to surge further with the upcoming Olympics and the highly anticipated reopening of the iconic Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral.

“We are looking at an overall total of €63 billion this year”, said Zamira Ismatova, Deputy Director at Atout France Middle East & Turkey Regional Office.

“France has been the world’s leading tourist destination for more than 30 years, thanks to its rich natural and architectural heritage that attracts tourists in droves, as well as its world-renowned hospitality and lifestyle,” Ismatova said, speaking to TTN on the sidelines of Rendez-vous en France in Toulouse.

Tourism has always been one of France’s most prolific sectors, contributing immensely to the country’s GDP over the years. In 2023, the total contribution of travel and tourism to the GDP was 7.5 per cent, supporting over two million jobs, she stated.

“French President Emmanuel Macron is personally overseeing key initiatives aimed at boosting tourism numbers, and now he aims to achieve the ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first sustainable nation,” she said.

Macron outlined the tourism strategy earlier this year at the Destination France summit, focusing on cutting its carbon footprint by fostering an eco-conscious tourism model marked by an exciting blend of growth, innovation, and delightful experiences.

There has been an increasing thrust on sustainable transportation from him, she explained.

France has an extensive, 27,000-km railway network, and a great many destinations are accessible by train in the country. To boost ‘green tourism,’ the government is now increasing inter-regional railway connections and also promoting ‘slow tourism’.

“This increasingly popular mode of travel encourages slowing down and taking time when travelling, thus making the journey itself part of the experience for tourists - like travelling by train and enjoying the country’s landscapes while contributing to the reduction of the carbon footprint,” she added.

Ahead of the Olympics, the Paris region is reimagining the area as a ‘green oasis.’ The Paris promenade will feature 400 more trees along with 15,000 additional sq m of green space and increased pedestrian walkways.

Regarding the record tourist inflow, Ismatova said this trend may be due to several factors such as the return of the Asian clientele in droves, a sort of revenge tourism, and a love for skiing (mainly among the British and HNWIs in the Arab world).

More than 1.2 million tourists from the Middle East (including Israel and Turkey) visited France last year. For them, Paris comes first on the list (mainly the families) and then the French Riviera and for the more adventurous ones, it’s the Northern Alps mainly during summer.

During the winter, all roads head to Les 3 Vallées, the largest ski area in France with a mammoth 600 km of slopes and eight linked high altitude resorts.