Tourism recovery after terrorism: How France bounced back

After two years of falling tourism numbers, due terrorist attacks in 2015, France experienced impressive growth in 2017 according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s research. Tourists in France spent €44.3 billion in 2017, an annual increase of 6.4%. That’s 50% higher than the world average growth of 4.3%.

Read the full report here.

So France is very much back on track. Here are some of the steps the country took to speed recovery.

Respond to security concerns fast

Within days of the first attacks in January 2015, French President Hollande announced a deployment of over 10,000 military and police personnel across 830 key locations in the country. The intention was to reassure the French public and the wider world that France was safe. It’s also notable how French authorities have learned from these incidents, responding with speed and efficiency during the shooting incident in Trèbes earlier this year. With over 80 million arrivals a year, more tourists visit France than any other country. But domestic tourism is far more significant, providing over 70% of the country’s travel sector income. In the immediate aftermath, swift action to reassure citizens that their country is safe and visitors that life goes on, can be very effective for ensuring the long term fall out is limited. While inbound tourist income dropped significantly after the 2015 attacks, domestic spend hardly changed, and recovered completely within 12 months.

Promote aggressively and in coordinated fashion

Paris was hit hardest, but other parts of the country saw reduced numbers of tourists too. Meetings were convened soon after the attacks between French national and regional tourism bodies, the industry and Government to create a coordinated strategy to promote French tourism. Airlines, airports, regional tourist boards, the tourism ministry and others worked together on this new Made in France campaign. It was financed to the tune of €2.5 million with the French state contributing €1 million.

Use social media effectively

The campaign worked across all channels, but emphasis was put on social media, where false news could do most damage. Funds were spent on social media monitoring in nine languages across over 190 countries — in particular around discussions relating to Paris. Negative and incorrect messaging was countered with the help of a full time social media manager working across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Additionally over 70 bloggers and YouTubers from 10 different countries were brought to France to experience what the country had to offer.

Use focussed messaging for selected markets

It was a straight forward job to know which countries to target with promotional marketing. The French Tourism Authority (Atout France) had data showing which countries provided most tourists and which showed the biggest drops in inbound tourists to France. Tourist arrivals from Japan, Russia and China dropped by over 50%, 35% and 13% respectively. In total, 16 key markets were chosen for promotional activity. Spend was concentrated towards the countries that mattered most. Additionally key attractions and experiences in France were selected to promote so that messaging was coherent and uncomplicated.

Reduce red tape

France had introduced 48-hour visa approvals for Chinese tourists in 2014 with great success. The decision was taken to widen this scheme to certain countries in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. This resulted in the number of visa applications being approved increasing by between 30 to 250% for some nationalities. The need for short term visa requests to be accompanied by proof of hotel reservation was also dropped for all countries where it was not a local legal requirement.

Promote a warm welcome

Perhaps the best ambassadors for tourism to a country are tourists themselves. Making sure that the people who visited France had a truly memorable experience from start to finish was important. Part of the promotional campaign included welcome posters at airports and ports, better information in visitors’ languages and welcome text messages in home languages. A raft of training initiatives was put in place for the hospitality sector too.

Use smart technology

Smoothing peoples’ transit into France took the form of rolling out more automation for passport control for visitors from countries with approved biometric passports. Wider sharing of positive messages by tourists already in France was promoted by introducing free wifi at popular tourism locations like hotels and airports. Innovation in technology was encouraged with a series of conferences for the tech industry focussed on developing new apps specifically for tourists.

Perhaps the biggest learning of all?

France is ready. The authorities know exactly how to respond if these incidents occur and do so with speed and efficiency.

Further Reading (in French only):

  1. Strategy for making France a global tourism leader
  2. Press launch documentation for Made in France

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