French tourism boosted by visitors from Middle East

Visitors from the Middle East have boosted tourism numbers in France this year as visitors from other nations declined because of the economic downturn.

France is the world's most visited country and has a vast property rental industry but government officials have indicated that this summer has been a good year despite the credit crunch.

Initial indications are that holidaymakers have been very price conscious this year and that they have chosen to rent apartments, villas and gites rather than opt for more expensive hotels. Areas served by low cost airlines have seen activity increase.

Although figures have not yet been published Herve Novelli, a minister in the tourist department, said all the indications point to France being immune to the global slowdown.

The tourism sector generates 6.3% of gross domestic product in France and is regarded as a key indicator for other key sectors like property.

Weakness in the dollar meant fewer US visitors in July and August and the number of Japanese also fell, Novelli said.

There were also fewer Chinese visitors but this was put down to the Olympic effect with fewer Chinese travelling abroad because of the Games.

'This decline has been compensated by an increase in the numbers of foreign tourists with a strong ability to spend from the Middle East or from Russia,' he said.

Visitors from the Middle East jumped by an estimated 20% in July and August compared with the same period a year ago.

France, which had nearly 82 million foreign visitors last year, continued to remain attractive to fellow Europeans. 'There is a kind of very deep fidelity among foreigners from nearby countries. The Italians, the Germans, the Dutch and the English came to France in as big a way as they have in previous years,' Novelli said.

'The summer of 2008 confirms in the end the solid state of French tourism and the fact that it was not very sensitive to the slowdown in the global economy,' Novelli added.

Novelli did not give figures on foreign arrivals in July and August, saying only that the trend was 'stable'.