And now, if France is well aware of the economic crisis, it is continuing its self-proclamation as the world leader in tourism… with a good head of winner and not very credible figures. However, if you are still in lockdown and want to experience full on casino vibes, you can always do so at

• A calculation method which in no way allows us to determine the number of tourist arrivals in France.

• An average expenditure per foreign tourist which proves that the official data are false.

• Tourists in transit to other destinations are counted, including 2 times (outward and return).

The DGCIS, which depends on the Ministry of the Economy and Productive Recovery, has just released its latest statistics on the number of foreign tourists who came to our beautiful country in 2013. Finaude, it counted 84.7 million , against 83 in 2012.

” Cock-a-doodle Doo ! » Announces the magazine Challenges , followed like a single man by the whole of the media which do not at any time question these pretty syrupy statistics at will. As if by chance, this jubilant announcement (when we contemplate the ambient gloom) comes at the right time to consolidate the wishes of the Tourism Conference presented with great fanfare last June ( see our article ) by no less than 4 ministers. For the moment, none of them has yet welcomed this new national performance, or even appropriated its merits.

At the Committee for the Modernization of French Hotels and Tourism , we have become accustomed to no longer raving about these figures which seem (are) too good to be true. Alas, they don’t even make us laugh anymore. It is distressing that successive governments can parade and continue to publish false figures giving France a systematic winner as the world’s leading tourist destination. Our two White Papers on Hotel and Tourist Modernization have spoken about this at length.

Because such information is more like disinformation , exaggerating or making fun of reality. This is a real double-edged knife. Because, it may be good to let the whole world know that France is (would be) the most visited country: this can stimulate the traveling public, arouse their curiosity and encourage them to come too – success attracts . But, this trompe-l’œil imageFor years now has prevented any understanding of tourism by elected politicians, the media and the French themselves. Crisis or no crisis, tourism thus seems to operate on its own, without the need to train, invest, promote abroad, modernize the offer and question itself. Political positivism lives as hard as the self-flagellation that the French are fond of.

These triumphalist and analgesic communiques even influence the two parliamentary assemblies and push the legislators to lay new taxes with an air of “in-want-you-here”, since tourism would go so well.   

83 th rank in the average expenditure per tourist

However, many factors indicate that the way of compiling these official statistics can only be approximate, if not light . First, the average expenditure per tourist coming to France is extremely low. If we divide with ease tourism revenues “official” by the number of arrivals “official”, it only gets $ 647 of spending per tourist in 2012, which relegates to France … 83 th world out of this register ( see our analysis on the subject ). So, very far from the first place claimed in terms of attendance and third in terms of revenue.

This figure should still put the chip in the ear of the first apprentice tourism minister come. 

Then, the methodology for estimating the 84.7 million foreign visitors is at the very least restricted . It is based on two complementary studies. The first is the survey of visitors from abroad (EVE) , carried out by the DGCIS and the Banque de France. Formerly a border survey , it seeks to measure the monthly volume of tourist flows of non-residents leaving the territory and to observe their behavior in mainland France (source DGCIS).

“The questioning is carried out at the exit of the territory with the visitors (tourists and excursionists) for all the modes of transport used, with the exception of the road”. For the latter, following the abolition of physical borders following the Schengen agreements, the questioning is carried out on… motorway areas . About 80,000 questionnaires, translated into nine languages ​​and completed by tourists, are collected each year, an average of 6,700 per month. “Only” one would be tempted to say.

This method of data collection is certainly developed to identify the qualitative aspects of tourist stays (origins of tourists, reasons for and length of stay, budgets, types of accommodation, etc.). But, we objectively do not see how it can allow to quantify a volume of tourists and to extrapolate to arrive at the conclusion that there would be 84.7 million foreign visitors, or even 70 or 50.

All the more so as the second study, which is added to this one, is based solely on surveys of frequentation of collective tourist accommodation , carried out by INSEE: hotels, campsites, tourist residences, holiday villages and youth, or nearly 28,000 establishments; but, a majority of them are not interviewed. In this case, it is the hosts who answer the questionnaires sent to them and this is only declarative. However, we know that the reliability of their answers is most often all that is most troubling as they are imprecise , for attendance statistics generally poorly or little kept. But, we do with what we have.

This second survey cannot help to establish a quantity of foreign tourists received in France. So, is it a study written on the corner of a table?

The DGCIS itself admits that we do not know the proportion of visitors who opt for several types of accommodation during their stay, estimated by it in duration at an average 7.1 nights, but only 2.1 in hotels. They can spend one or more nights at a hotel, then with friends, then in a guest room or their motorhome, with many other possible combinations.   

“Handing over a questionnaire to 80,000 tourists and a form to a sample of commercial accommodation providers – only – does not establish that France would have received 84.7 million tourist arrivals, or even 70 or 50.”

Fascinating analyzes

In addition, commercial accommodation would represent only 67% of demand in 2013 against 69% in 2008. However, in this targeted sector, information is lacking, particularly on other paying accommodation, including lodges, guest rooms. hosts and non-collective tourist rentals, which are not included in the survey of accommodation providers and which are abundant (around 70,000, just in guest houses).

The DGCIS thus speaks of an erosion of the shares of the market sector when it is (if the figures are correct) only an increase in favor of the non-market sector. INSEE indicated a few weeks ago that the number of overnight stays for the hotel industry alone, the majority in the retail supply reported, rose from 68.4 million in 2012 to 72 million in 2013, an increase of 5% and not 3.2% as reported by the DGCIS study.

One can not speak of a decline in demand in the accommodation fee, knowing that besides the outdoor accommodation (2 th branch in the commercial sector) is worn like a charm.

Prudent, the DGCIS recognizes the problem well and prefers to advance that the spectacular figures of French tourism which it gives with a smile may not be found among professional accommodation providers. They do not seem to see tourist life as rosy as the state services. In other words, the good news should be seen as an increase in the arrivals of foreign tourists staying with friends or family, or even bartering / exchanging their apartments. This may explain that the average revenue per visitor is so low, except that no one ever discusses this possibility, among others.

Tourists in transit

We will not forget to include in this observation, as we have been talking about for years, that we count in arrivals – without it ever being admitted – the number of tourists and vacationers who only cross the sea. France from north to south thanks to our splendid highways. They go to Morocco, Spain, Italy or Portugal, in particular. Not to mention the passengers in transit through airports or visitors to Disneyland (7.3 million foreigners) who come to France only for this reason and for whom the tricolor destination is only a coincidence.

Are they 15 or 20% or more of tourist arrivals recorded? And will they be recorded twice for those who pass through, on the outward journey and then on the return? Which means that the word “(tourist) destination” is not suitable for everyone concerning France.

In fact, INSEE already questioned the official figures in 2008 , covering data for 2007. For a total announced of 82 million foreign tourist arrivals, it estimated that there were 68 million visitors. for whom France was a destinationand 14 million people in simple transit, or 17%.

Finally, we are surprised to note that Belgium and Luxembourg, which together have 11.5 million inhabitants, manage to supply 10.5 million tourists to France , or 91% of the inhabitants . Yes, amazing. Except counting the French who live there and who return regularly to our / their country. Except counting several times the same Belgo-Luxembourger who come across the border to spend weekends with us and increase our statistics. Thanks to them. 

The DGCIS reminds that “the offer of commercial accommodation, in particular hotels, is perhaps not in total adequacy with the expectations of foreign tourists”to explain – a little easily – the decline in demand for the hotel industry (whereas it would have on the contrary increased according to INSEE). The delay in modernity is however an observation that the Committee for the Modernization of French Hotels and Tourism made in 2006 and which was at the origin of its creation. Better to understand late than never.

Finally, the author of the study thinks it useful to recall that the new classification is still too recent “to produce its beneficial effects in terms of tourist attractiveness” . Beneficial? This is a surprising assumption when we know that these standards are anything but reliable and credible ( see our analyzes ), that the device which is already 5 years old and has therefore had time to be put in place should “contribute to modernizing the French hotels ” according to its defenders, that 80% of hotels are classified to date and have therefore come under the magnifying glass of accredited audit firms and finally that the hotel stock has gone upmarket,… according to the propaganda.

Consequently, we would have been lied to about the benefits of the new classification, which has been so much vaunted, and about the virtues of the stars,… that customers do not look at any more?

In any case, each successive government can continue to uncork bottles of champagne by whole cases on ”  SAFrance, the world’s leading tourist destination” , helped by their administrations to publish very accommodating figures. But accommodating for whom? To please who? Some people talk about hacked data. We are ready to believe them.

Anyway, we are poorly served between these questionable official statistics of tourism which are there only to serve the image of the government in place and the rigged barometers emanating from the research firms. French tourism sails in the fog to the sound of the foghorn and does not know where it is going, like an unlikely Christopher Columbus.  

 See the DGCIS report

 Our press release contesting these official tourism figures


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