Minister expects France to remain top tourist destination in 2018
European Union – Tourism/migration policy – Interview given by M. Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to RMC (excerpts)
Paris, 5 September 2018
Q. – You’re Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, you’re responsible for foreign trade and tourism; it’s said that this is one of the Republic’s most unrewarding portfolios. Is this true?
THE MINISTER – No, quite the opposite. It’s exciting because the job serves all parts of the country. As you know, France is made up of departments, regions, destinations, your cherished Basque Country, Brittany and others too. In this portfolio, I’m tasked with helping all businesses in those areas export more effectively and find international markets and also develop those areas so that international tourists visit France even more – above all so they don’t just visit Paris and the Ile-de-France – which are a beating heart – but all areas of France. This work is carried out daily in association with men and women who are themselves passionate about their jobs, be they heads of companies, employees or service providers.
Q. – So you’re the super sales representative working inside and outside France. (…)
THE MINISTER – Either way, I’m really mobilized: we’re living today in a world in which there’s competition everywhere and in every field.
Q. – Who can compete with France?
THE MINISTER – As far as tourism goes, for example, our Spanish neighbours are pushing very hard: they welcomed 83 million international tourists in 2017, while we were on 87 million, so there’s only 4 million between us. They’re pulling out all the stops on promotion, so we mustn’t rest on our laurels as the number one destination, even though we’re world champions.
Q. – Have we stayed the world champions this summer?
THE MINISTER – I certainly expect us to have done.
Q. – And when will we know?
THE MINISTER – We’ll know at the beginning of October. What I can tell you is that the trend over the first six months is very good: people are saying 2017 was a record. Compared to that record year, we still have a growing number of international arrivals.
Q. – We should explain to people that you put so much energy into us staying world champions in terms of [the number of] foreign visitors to France because it’s worth a huge amount of money; tourism accounts for €34.37 billion of revenue, doesn’t it?
THE MINISTER – Even more, actually. (…) In 2017 tourism generated €53 billion of spending in France. That’s 7% of our GDP. This means there are many parts of the country in which tourism is a driving force, and moreover it’s no coincidence that nearly 30,000 jobs have been created in the catering industry in one year.
Q. – But they’re struggling to find people!
THE MINISTER – You’re absolutely right, they’re having real problems recruiting and it’s one of the issues I’ll be actively working on up to the end of the year, with professionals, with both sides of industry – the UMIH [French trade union for the hotel industry], GNI-SYNHORCAT [hotel and catering employers’ organization] etc. – because we’ve got a source of jobs which sometimes aren’t properly filled. We can’t let this go on happening, we need to provide training – even more than this, we need to provide training to an excellent standard.
Q. – Does that mean you’re going to allow the UMIH to let asylum seekers work? Would you go that far?
THE MINISTER – There are two ways forward. This has been the subject of public debate; we’ve got to look at what it all entails. Here too, there’s the important issue of access to training. I think also and more generally we’ve got to develop apprenticeships because they’ve been undervalued for too long.
Q. – Isn’t that frankly a bit… Every form of manual work in France has been totally devalued.
THE MINISTER – Yes, that’s true. As you know, I’m a product of work-based learning, I worked during my studies and I can tell you that it’s very formative and that Jean-Michel Blanquer, Muriel Pénicaud, Frédérique Vidal and the Head of State are tirelessly committed to creating a new image for apprenticeships. Essentially they are pathways into jobs.
Q. – We can see your portfolio is extremely broad; I’d like to stick with tourism for a moment. There was a strange World Cup effect that worked against us.
THE MINISTER – I’ve read that; indeed, you could say July was mixed.
Q. – In fact Protourisme brought out a study saying July was mediocre across 80% of the country.
THE MINISTER – I think there were several factors. You can be a fan of the beautiful game, but it doesn’t prevent you going on holiday. So I think there are several explanations. First of all, schools finish later now, often around 7 July, and also, people who are approaching higher education are looking for training, enrolling and making arrangements.
Q. – Do you mean waiting for results from Parcoursup [higher education admissions platform]?
THE MINISTER – Parcoursup is something to be proud of. Habits also change. French people are going on holiday more frequently each year, but for shorter periods. Twenty or 30 years ago, July and August were sacred, from 1 July to 31 August; today we can see that the big departure period is very much concentrated between 20 July and 20 August. This may explain a slightly more lacklustre July. August seems to have been solid, and above all we’re having more and more Indian summers in September and even until the beginning of October.
Q. – French people have been abroad, and some tourists on the beach in their swimming costumes have seen vessels full of migrants arriving. A clash of two worlds that have nothing in common, apart from wanting to save their skin.
THE MINISTER – We’ve seen those pictures more in Spain, but they’re real, even though we haven’t seen them in France. We do realize this is a major challenge.
I also focus a lot on development policy, and I can tell you one thing: I strongly believe Europe and Africa will succeed together or fail together. There’s such vigorous population growth on the African continent that the response can’t be merely to try and build walls. What’s needed is to provide fundamental responses, like more solidarity at European level, because when there’s no solidarity and you leave countries like Italy and Greece on their own, you see the result in the ballot boxes.
We need to work with all the countries those young men usually come from, to ensure we can help them develop a private sector and self-entrepreneurship. We also need cooperation against people-trafficking. (…)
Q. – You can always help develop self-entrepreneurship, but when you’re a Sudanese person in Darfur, when you’re hunted down and in danger of being shot dead…
THE MINISTER – You’ve put your finger on it: there are different categories, even though it’s difficult to use that word. There are people who come for economic migration and there are people who come under the right to asylum, because indeed they’re persecuted, hounded because of their political or religious opinions or their gender.
From this point of view, France is and will continue to deliver on the right of asylum.
Q. – Not always.
THE MINISTER – There’s one very important point: in order to prevent those people eligible to asylum from making what is sometimes a deadly Mediterranean crossing, the Head of State has ensured that we now have OFPRA [French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons] missions on the ground, in Chad and Niger for example, to identify eligible people.
Q. – Benoît Hamon asks: what difference is there between Italy, which turns away boats that have picked up migrants, and France, which doesn’t open its doors any further?
THE MINISTER – There’s a huge difference. France is at work: throughout the summer we’ve ensured, on a case-by-case basis, that mechanisms can be put in place to ensure that [migrants from] the various ships which have turned up on the coasts of southern Europe can be shared out among different countries to prevent the burden falling on a single country. We’ve taken this approach based on solidarity but also on an appeal to responsibility and the creation of a sustainable response. We have to be clear-sighted now; it’s at European level that you handle things. For example, it’s at European level that we’re going to strengthen Frontex, i.e. the coastguard.
Q. – You’ll accept that we sometimes have to admit those boats according to the naval rules and sometimes not. The Aquarius should have arrived in France.
THE MINISTER – No. According to the international naval rules you mention, the Aquarius must dock in the nearest and safest port.
Q. – It should have docked in France, because the nearest port was French and not Spanish!
THE MINISTER – No, the nearest and safest port was Italian from the outset. (…)./.