PARIS — Operators in France’s tourism and luxury sectors have banded together to coordinate a response to the country’s tourism woes — this time focusing on recovering Chinese visitors.
The 46.2 Alliance — which includes 20 major companies impacted by the tourist sector, from hotel groups to luxury players such as Galeries Lafayette and Kering — made sweeping recommendations for bolstering France’s attractiveness and ease of access for Chinese visitors in a report released Tuesday, calling for increased air travel, easier visas and a massive publicity campaign.
The Paris region alone welcomed 268,000 fewer visitors from China in 2016 than in 2015, a 21.5 percent decline, the Paris Regional Tourism Board has reported. The Paris region lost 1.5 million visitors overall in 2016, with an 8.8 percent drop in hotel stays by foreign guests.
A string of deadly terror attacks in Paris, Brussels and Nice; travel strikes and protests, and the wettest spring on record in 150 years all conspired to dissuade travelers last year, dealing a heavy blow to hoteliers and luxury retailers alike.
Chinese visitors to France overall had roughly tripled between 2009 and 2015, and companies in the 46.2 Alliance are determined to get what had been their fastest-growing market back on track both by coordinating their own strategies and by putting pressure on government officials to help stem the slide.
Approving new airlines and increasing the number of regular flights is also recommended as an essential step for scaling up travel from China. To facilitate the visa process — notably by opening more centers for obtaining the “biometric” visa required in many cases by the Schengen zone — is a key effort the group is demanding from French authorities.
The report also recommends raising the sales tax refund for foreign visitors from 1,000 euros to 3,000 euros, a move that could reinforce Paris’ dominance as a destination for luxury shopping trips as well as boost revenues per visitor.
Exane BNP Paribas has estimated that Paris accounts for 74 percent of luxury consumption in France. Only New York generates more spending in personal luxury goods than Paris, with London in third place, according to 2014 data from Altagamma and Bain.
“Used to being ‘the most visited country in the world,’ France and its tourism operators have never developed an aggressive marketing strategy abroad — one that mixes soft power and a massive multichannel campaign with inspirational content,” the report said, making France stand apart from competing destinations for Chinese visitors like Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, England and Italy.
The need for such a campaign has become more apparent as the strong points of the country’s image — romanticism, shopping, heritage and lifestyle know-how — are increasingly balanced by a deficit of security and stability.
Persistent concerns about terrorism have damaged the country’s image in terms of safety, and strikes by staff at the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in 2014 and 2015, respectively — and more recently by trash collectors, and train and airline staff — have sent the message that France is an unreliable destination.
In addition to a multichannel national campaign, the 46.2 Alliance has recommended the French government hire spokespeople from within the Chinese star system to encourage tourism to France, as well as using French stars who are well-known in China.
The report suggests an emergency hotline in Mandarin to help Chinese visitors access services, as well as launching an exchange program between French and Chinese police, which could reassure visitors and generate buzz.
The companies also suggest courting celebrity weddings by Chinese stars and distributing successful French television shows in China, citing the success of “Downton Abbey” at promoting the U.K.’s tourist appeal.
The name of the 46.2 Alliance references France’s location in terms of latitude.