My French Link: Is France still the most visited country in the world?
Eric Chevallier: Absolutely! France has been ranking first for more than 25 years, and although competition is high, over 84 million tourists visit our country every year.
MFL: How do you explain this excellent outcome?
EC: When you think about France, you first think about fine arts, culture and heritage. People want to visit France to discover its beautiful regions, historic sites and famous museums such as the Louvre, where the Mona Lisa can be seen, or the Musée d’Orsay, displaying a unique collection of Impressionist paintings. Moreover, people from the five continents also come to discover our gastronomy, which is considered the best in the world, and this is precisely why the famous Chef Alain Ducasse, together with the French foreign ministry, has launched the Goût de France initiative. This year again, Goût de France / Good France will take place here in Qatar, in March, where many restaurants, in association with the French Embassy in Doha, will take part in the second edition in this worldwide event. Around the world, 1500 chefs will prepare more than 1 500 menus.
MFL: If I get it well, France has way more to offer than just Paris?
EC: Sure! France can’t be reduced to the Champs Elysées, even though it is the most wonderful shopping boulevard in the world. Actually, if I had to sum up France in one word, that would be diversity. Its landscapes are extremely diverse: you can ski in the Alps, swim along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, walk between lavender fields in Provence, or hike in Auvergne. But architecture in France is just as diverse, from the medieval houses of Strasburg, to the modern Louvre Pyramid, through the unique Chateaux de la Loire, the classical Chateau de Versailles, the Paris Haussman style buildings, or the Arab World Institute, a building the famous architect Jean Nouvel designed.
MFL: So, France can interest every kind of visitors?
EC: Yes, in addition to our landscapes and historical heritage, we have broadened our offer to visitors. As you may know, entertainment now has a large market share in tourism industry. Well, it happens that the Europe’s most visited theme park, DisneyLand, is only a few kilometers away from Paris. Visitors can also have fun in the Asterix Park, the cinema-based Futuroscope Park in Poitier, or the Puy du Fou, a park dedicated to historical shows. Many foreigners enjoy relaxing in the French thalasso hotels, in Biarritz, on the French Riviera but also in Britany for example. Furthermore, in addition to the more traditional museums I have already mentioned, new modernist ones have opened, such as the Museum of Mediterranean civilizations in Marseille. Finally, hosting the most prestigious France fashion houses, like Chanel, Hermes, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, or young designers, Paris remains the world capital de la mode.
MFL: But is France all about culture and leisure?
EC: Not at all! We are proud of our past but we also look forward. This is why France offers many modern services attracting visitors from all around the world. France is a world leader to organize business travels and international conventions. France also turns out to be a land where start-ups flourish thanks to the construction of incubators like the NOMA in Paris, EuraTech in Lille, or the Halle Freyssinet, the world’s largest digital business incubator, due to open this year in Paris. At the ‘104’, young artists have a place at their disposal to work on their productions.
MFL: Does your government implement special policies tourism-wise?
EC: Yes, many plans have been implemented in order to improve the quality of our services to foreigners. At the French Embassy in Qatar, we have developed a program to make sure every Qatari citizen is granted a visa within 48 hours. In France, the government has taken all the necessary measures to ensure everyone’s safety. Finally, thanks to the Schengen agreements, foreigners can travel to most European countries with their visa issued by the French Authorities, and then come back when they want to.
MFL: In 2016, are there special events you would advise people to attend?
As every year, people may attend many events in all fields ranging from movies to fashion not to mention gastronomy, paintings exhibition and so on! I’d like to focus on sport. 2016 is going to be a sports year! From June 10 to July 10, the UEFA Euro 2016 is to take place in France. During a month, all the best football teams of Europe will compete in ten stadiums across the country. Visitors will also be pleased to attend the Roland Garros tennis open, or the famous Tour de France, a unique cycling competition which allows you to travel through many of the most amazing French landscapes.