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France still hanging out tourist welcome

Anti-tourism protests have spread from Spain into the Pays Basque with posters in Biarritz saying Parisien dégage t’as Paris plage (Parisian, go away, you’ve got your own beach).

Barcelona, Saint-Sébastien in the Spanish Basque country just across the border from Biarritz, Venice and Croatia have all seen protests on mass tourism.

In Saint-Sébastien a thousand protestors took to the streets in August, saying mass tourism pushed property prices out of residents’ reach and destroyed the ‘feel’ of places it took over.

Bayonne councillor Mathieu Bergé told Radio France the Pays Basque’s attraction was its authenticity but Basque heritage was at risk in the rush to touristification – there needed to be a better balance.

France, which has so far seen record numbers of tourists this year, is keen for more but aims to spread them across the country, away from the main areas.

It has seen a rise of 10.2% in the first six months of 2017 compared to 2016 (which was affected by fears after the 2015 Paris attacks). Campsites have seen the biggest rise, up 18.7%.

Foreign tourists are returning and government figures project 88-89million for 2017; 5-6% up on 2016 with the government aiming for 100m by 2020.

Charente was top destination for French holidaymakers in 2016 and departmental tourism president Stéphane Villain, who is also president for departmental tourism across France, said Charente had space for more visitors, especially foreign, as 75% of visitors are French.

 “In a study, we asked the local population whether they were happy welcoming visitors into their region and 90% said yes.

“We are developing green tourism away from the popular seaside resorts with its cycle paths and cultural monuments and so we have plenty of space.

“France is so vast and so rich in attractions tourists can be spread throughout the country.”

At a meeting with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in July he found ministers keen to encourage more visitors.

“Tourist bosses, politicians and local people were happy to welcome them.”

Tourism is also rising in Marseille, where President Macron had his summer holiday, but Rabiha Benaissa, of PACA region tourist committee, said it was 10 years behind Barcelona in attracting visitors.

So far there were no complaints, but it is only a matter of time. “People are very welcoming but there could be problems in the long term, with  more and more huge cruise ships coming into port and smoke blowing into the highly residential nearby area, and there are concerns about sea pollution.”

The French Tourism Develop­ment Agency says its policy is to attract more tourists and to spread them in France, unlike Spain which has tourist zones.

Working on 16 main areas including the Pays Basque, Provence, Bourgogne, Cham­pagne and Paris, it also features lesser- known attractions so as not to swamp any one area.

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