France receives 6% fewer tourists in 2009


France, the world’s most visited country, received 6 percent fewer tourists in 2009 because of the economic crisis and unfavorable currency rates.

A total of 74 million visited France, down from 79 million in 2008, the Industry Ministry said in a report published today. With the euro trading at an average of $1.4, France struggled to attract U.S. tourists, who were 8 percent fewer. As the U.K. fell into its longest recession since World War II, 17 percent fewer Britons visited.

Tourism generated 6.4 percent of France’s gross domestic product, with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Mont Saint Michel attracting millions.

“France remained the world champion” of tourist destinations, Herve Novelli, the junior minister in charge of tourism, told reporters in Paris. “If the French hadn’t visited their own country, the results would have been much more difficult,” he said. Eighty percent of the French take vacations at home, while 20 percent travel abroad.

France’s economy exited recession in the second quarter of 2009. Tourism began to pick up in the second half, Novelli said.

Tourists with high purchasing power, visiting the home of luxury brands such as Hermes International SCA, Chanel or Dior, also came in lower numbers. There were 4 percent fewer Chinese, 23 percent fewer Russians and 3 percent fewer Japanese.

Americans, who “deserted, are slowly coming back” as the euro fell against the dollar this year, Novelli said.