France still popular with ME travellers

Tourism links between France and the Middle East maybe stronger than ever, but the situation still faces its own set of hiccups, finds MANYA SEHGAL

France is heading for high in 2007, with over 78 million foreign tourists visiting the country last year, and an expected increase this year that can only boost the booming economy even further.

So why is it that the ‘world’s number one tourist destination’ — or so says the French Government Tourism Association — has been receiving flak of late for not being too Arab-friendly? Tougher visa procedures for Mideast travelers and bad Press due to racism allegations have added fuel to an already tense situation.
Said Pascal J Lepêtre, director, Maison de la France, Dubai: “That is simply not the case. It is unfortunate that people find the procedure of applying for a visa at the French Consulate in Dubai cumbersome but you have to understand that we live in trying times where terrorism is very much a part of our lives. The reason why we take extra precautions, be it here or any other part of the world, is to ensure that visitors have a safe trip to our country.”
Lepêtre added that the French Government has set up the system, and even though the regional office would like to lay down their own set of rules, orders have to be taken from the top. “Requests have been passed on to concerned authorities and we do hope that in future we have a system in place that satisfies all concerned parties.”
In the meanwhile, France is heavily promoting activity tourism in the country. A steady rise in well-being breaks, golfing holidays and even vineyard vacations have been noted over the last year.
“A major chunk of our tourists are repeat visitors who have already done the ‘sightseeing holiday’ and are now returning to enjoy the specialized activities France has to offer,” he said.
With stress levels rising in this part of the world, well-being tourism in France has been on the rise, with thalassotherapy being a major draw — attracting over 300,000 visitors every year. Hydrotherapy has also been making waves, with the 105 spas and 1200 mineral water springs paying homage to 10 per cent of all tourists visiting France.
“That should be our next motto for 2007,” said Lepêtre, “‘France – enter the world of wellness’.”