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Ease up on tourism push or face overcrowded sites

With France heading for a stunning 90 million visitors this year the head of the country’s tourism development agency said it may be time to act before key sites become overcrowded resulting in local anger and visitor disappointment.

Christian Mantei, managing director of Atout France, was at pains to say the country was not ‘full up’ for tourists but said drives to lure ever higher numbers should be tempered.

One solution may be to change the hours people visit key sites like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre or Mont Saint-Michel.

Despite rail and pilot strike disruption, France is on track to beat last year’s total of 87 million visitors who brought in €57billion in business.

Mr Mantei said the World Cup win translated into better moods for those working with visitors and contributed to France’s positive global image.

This was especially strong with Chinese and Japanese as football becomes more popular there but also had an effect in northern America and Africa.

But, he warned that it could change quickly, saying: “If nothing is done, in five years, it will be necessary to regulate the influx of first-time foreign visitors to France.”

Mr Mantei added: “In Paris, 80% of the sites that tourists absolutely want to see are on the banks of the Seine and they are close to saturation and things are getting hot in our most beautiful villages.”

He said that when there was ‘overtourism’ it first manifested itself in anger from local residents – and he pointed out that Parisians have for long avoided Montmartre’s Place du Tertre while Mont Saint-Michel is crowded all summer long.

Paris Tourist Office is hailing statistics showing 70.2 million visitors in 2017, up 5.6% on 2016.

The most popular site in the capital was Notre Dame Cathedral with 12 million visitors, then Sacre Coeur in second on 10 million. The Louvre was third with more than 8 million, a 14.8% growth on 2016.

The Eiffel Tower had 6.2 million paying visitors but is close to being too busy and is controlling numbers with an online ticket office for timed visits.

Even Mont Blanc has had to set limits with too many climbers crowding the Refuge du Goûter, making the route to the summit unsafe.

Mr Mantei added: “With the growth of tourist arrivals coming mainly from Asia, first-time visitors dreaming of Paris and the Eiffel Tower, the phenomenon can only get worse.

“We must think of quality not quantity to preserve a balance between tourist activity, quality of life for residents and preservation of the environment.”

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