Interview with Mark Watkins, president of the Committee for the Modernization of French Hotels and Tourism and consultant specializing in tourism.

You denounce the official tourism figures and say that France is not the world’s leading tourist destination. What are you basing yourself on?

Mark Watkins:My first challenge dates from 2006 when this same observation was identical. I am basing myself on a very simple analysis of the methodology which leads the ministerial services to conclude that France would have received 84.7 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2013. They claim to question 80,000 foreign tourists. But, if this type of survey can make it possible to know qualitatively the purchasing behavior of visitors, it does not allow us to estimate that 84.7 million tourists would have been received by us, nor even 70 or 50. It would be as if you interviewed 10 customers of a store and concluded that it had 10,000 customers. It’s impossible. This study is supplemented by the survey that INSEE carried out on a sample of commercial tourist accommodation (hotels, campsites, tourist residences) according to a declaration system. This poses the problem of the reliability of the responses because the latter do not keep their statistics or poorly, when they agree to communicate them fully. In addition, there is a lack of all non-commercial accommodation providers who welcome foreign tourists and paid rentals, not to mention the exchange of apartments / houses which are taking on a major dimension. 

In short, this estimation method is not correct and the official tourism figures are therefore fatally wrong, as if written on the corner of a table. It should be added that the calculation of the average expenditure per foreign visitor, if we stick to official statistics, ranks us at 83 when they agree to communicate them fully. In addition, there is a lack of all non-commercial accommodation providers who welcome foreign tourists and paid rentals, not to mention the exchange of apartments / houses which are taking on a major dimension. In short, this estimation method is not correct and the official tourism figures are therefore fatally wrong, as if written on the corner of a table. It should be added that the calculation of the average expenditure per foreign visitor, if we stick to official statistics, ranks us at 83 when they agree to communicate them fully. 

In addition, there is a lack of all non-commercial accommodation providers who welcome foreign tourists and paid rentals, not to mention the exchange of apartments / houses which are taking on a major dimension. In short, this estimation method is not correct and the official tourism figures are therefore fatally wrong, as if written on the corner of a table. It should be added that the calculation of the average expenditure per foreign visitor, if we stick to official statistics, ranks us at 83 this estimation method is not correct and the official tourism figures are therefore fatally wrong, as if written on the corner of a table. It should be added that the calculation of the average expenditure per foreign visitor, if we stick to official statistics, ranks us at 83 this estimation method is not correct and the official tourism figures are therefore fatally wrong, as if written on the corner of a table. It should be added that the calculation of the average expenditure per foreign visitor, if we stick to official statistics, ranks us at 83e in the world, is far from the first place in attendance and 3 e in tourist self-proclaimed recipes. Finally, everyone knows that we count the tourists who only cross France to go to real tourist destinations, which we are only partially. They would be 15 to 20%, or even more. This confirms that there is a problem.


Are there only the national figures that would not be correct?

MW:No, in the regions it is the same. Business surveys are generally carried out by calling the accommodation providers and sometimes the restaurateurs, who answer roughly. We do not know more about the tourists or their number. As for the barometers supplied in the regions by private firms, they are also frequently false. For the hotel industry, for example, these firms only have activity data for chains (17% of hotels) but claim that it concerns the entire hotel industry, which has nothing to do with see. It also happens that some of these firms cheat on the samples by advertising to interview more tourists or professionals than they actually do. These unethical practices do not seem to be a concern for their customers among the agglomerations, the CDTs and the CRTs.

You say that these statistics, which you believe to be wrong, pose a problem for tourism. But, could we not rather think that it is flattering to announce that France is the number one destination in the world?

MW:Yes, this smiling advertisement once publicized can attract foreign tourists because the world attracts the world … But the disadvantages are much greater than the advantages. This unjustified cocorico says that crisis or no crisis, France remains effortlessly world champion, which is not plausible. It makes us fall asleep on our laurels, diverting us from any concern for training, investment and tourism promotion. Everyone is lulled by this victorious song which deeply hinders the much needed understanding of tourism by the media, elected officials, investors and even the general public. This even gives the idea to the deputies to produce new taxes since for them, influenced by these releases, tourism is going so well. This is not the case. Without a reliable and informative economic observatory for tourism,  

Why are politicians and elected officials doing nothing to correct this situation?

MW:I think many people ignore everything I am talking about here. We lie to them and confuse them about the reality of the situation of French tourism and how it actually works. As for the insiders among the national and territorial elected representatives, they are often contributors to general disinformation because it is very accommodating to produce advantageous figures without any work being done except to invent them! Everyone then sets themselves the task of making this success their own. Politicians have no interest in the truth being told and can safely maintain the vagueness that exists on the tourism economy, to their advantage. This also makes it possible to never have to measure the impact of promotional and communication actions, and therefore to spend public money as desired, not always with efficiency. Especially since there are few protesters in the face of these inaccurate statistics and the few who denounce them are not very audible. Might as well continue in a dead end. Since we have been talking about it, we have noticed that there is no political will to correct the situation, if not speeches – always the same and always as inappropriate – to always explain the same thing which does not correspond to what we should do.

What should be done, precisely?

MW:Of course, French tourism needs a reliable and independent economic observatory to concretely help tourism stakeholders – both private and public sectors – to work with professionalism. I am not the only one to ask. Currently, we are sailing in the fog, without a rudder, without navigation instruments, without visibility and with sails with holes. There isn’t even a captain on board. Except that there are at least two obstacles to this lack of tools, beyond the lack of political will. The first is that it would probably cost too much because no one likes to invest significantly in observation and intelligence. The second, the most obvious, is that we do not know how to assess the weight of tourism and tourist consumption! Foreign tourists are volatile, diversify their purchasing behavior and constantly change their habits throughout their consumption. 10 tourist nights can be made by 1 client or by 10. To learn everything about them and be able to calculate useful and usable statistics, it would be necessary to be able to track tourists and almost attach an electronic chip to them, which is – fortunately – impossible and above all undesirable in terms of respect for the person.

 This ignorance is very debilitating and turns out to be an almost insurmountable obstacle in the current state of tourist traffic. Also, France risks continuing to give rubbish in its figures and it will be necessary to be satisfied with it, with a smile on the lips. 10 tourist nights can be made by 1 client or by 10. To learn everything about them and be able to calculate useful and usable statistics, it would be necessary to be able to track tourists and almost attach an electronic chip to them, which is – fortunately – impossible and above all undesirable in terms of respect for the person. This ignorance is very debilitating and turns out to be an almost insurmountable obstacle in the current state of tourist traffic. Also, France risks continuing to give rubbish in its figures and it will be necessary to be satisfied with it, with a smile on the lips. 

10 tourist nights can be made by 1 client or by 10. To learn everything about them and be able to calculate useful and usable statistics, it would be necessary to be able to track tourists and almost attach an electronic chip to them, which is – fortunately – impossible and above all undesirable in terms of respect for the person. This ignorance is very debilitating and turns out to be an almost insurmountable obstacle in the current state of tourist traffic. Also, France risks continuing to give rubbish in its figures and it will be necessary to be satisfied with it, with a smile on the lips. it would be necessary to be able to track tourists and almost attach an electronic chip to them, which is – fortunately – impossible and above all undesirable in terms of respect for the person. This ignorance is very debilitating and turns out to be an almost insurmountable obstacle in the current state of tourist traffic. Also, France risks continuing to give rubbish in its figures and it will be necessary to be satisfied with it, with a smile on the lips. it would be necessary to be able to track tourists and almost attach an electronic chip to them, which is – fortunately – impossible and above all undesirable in terms of respect for the person. 

This ignorance is very debilitating and turns out to be an almost insurmountable obstacle in the current state of tourist traffic. Also, France risks continuing to give rubbish in its figures and it will be necessary to be satisfied with it, with a smile on the lips.

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