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Getting tourism just right

France is the world’s most visited nation so it should be making more money out of tourism than any other country, right?

That is what economists are muttering as they tally up after another successful summer season: France needs to get as much money out of tourists as it can. But surely this is the wrong approach...tourism is about more than money. It is a human, social activity with complicated ramifications and it can easily go sour. Make it too mercenary and there is a risk of provoking anti-tourist protests as is being seen in Spain.

The trick is to attract the tourists and get them to spend money but to make sure they care about where they are and behave with respect. Tourism goes wrong when tourists regard wherever they are as their personal playground for two weeks.

So far, France has got tourism broadly right and in that it shows the world the way, never mind the takings in the till. It concentrates on quality tourism more than formulaic holidays and, as far as possible, spreads the tourists out so the benefits don’t just stay in the same few oversold places. It also manages to hide some secrets so not everywhere charming is turned into some bland ‘tourist product’. There are still villages and towns that do not tout for tourists because they do not want to.

The money tourism brings to a country is important but only in as far as it creates local jobs rather than rewarding absentee financial investors who are indifferent to the communities that serve their interests.

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