VIVA LA FRANCE
MONT SAINT MICHEL (Photos: ©Atout France)
French Ambassador H E Roland Dubertrand assures visitors from Oman a safe and unforgettable travel experience in France, which remains the world’s top tourist destination despite a series of terror attacks in the last two years.
France remains the world’s top tourist destination despite the tragic spate of terror attacks it witnessed over the last couple of years, the French envoy told Muscat Daily, adding that the country attracted over 83mn visitors in 2016, a marginal decrease from the 85mn in 2015.
“It’s true that we have suffered terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016, which explains the small drop in the number of tourists last year. However, we are proud that France is still the number one tourist destination in the world,” said H E Roland
Dubertrand, the Ambassador of France to Oman.
The French capital Paris saw a drop of 1.5mn tourists in 2016, as fears linked to terror attacks scared off visitors. However, tourist numbers picked up towards the end of the year, suggesting the slump could be easing.
Visitors from Oman
The global trend reflected in the drop in number of visas issued by the French Embassy in Muscat which saw a 30 per cent decline from 10,000 in 2015 to 7,000 in 2016. However the French Ambassador stressed that the numbers have picked up yet again. “We are positive that the number of visitors from Oman – both citizens and residents – will see a substantial growth this year,” he said.
On the other hand, from a peak of over 50,000 French tourists visiting Oman in 2014, the numbers have come down to 45,000 in 2016. H E Dubertrand attributed the slump to the global economic conditions.
However he was quick to add that there’s an increasing awareness about Oman in France and Europe and therefore sooner than later this trend will reverse too. “The credit must go to Oman’s Office of Tourism in Paris, which is very active in France and doing a wonderful job in promoting your fascinating country,” the French envoy said.
Since November last year, the Embassy has outsourced the visa application process to VFS Global which has its office in Grand Mall, Al Khuwair. The French Embassy ensures that the visa is delivered within 48 hours of application, said H E Dubertrand.
The Ambassador stressed that one of his primary aims is to attract more visitors from Oman. “As a diplomat, I know that human relationships are extremely important between nations. So, if we have more Omanis discovering France and vice versa, we will have more human contacts and more possibilities of cooperation.”
Ahead of the new tourist season, H E Dubertrand assured visitors to expect a pleasant and safe travel experience in France. “The best time to visit France is between June and August and the government is preparing to extend a warm welcome to the tourists this year,” he said. “We are fully committed to provide for the security and comfort of the travellers to France to make their visit an unforgettable experience.”
While Paris and Euro Disney remain the main draws for tourists, the envoy emphasised that travellers must take advantage of the diverse options that each of France’s different regions has to offer.
“If you are a first time visitor, Paris is a natural choice. And if you have children travelling with you, you are bound to visit Euro Disney. However, if you have more time in your hand or particularly if it’s not your first visit, we would always recommend you to discover at least a region depending upon your inclinations,” H E Dubertrand said.
“You may choose Côte d’Azur (also known as the French Riviera) off the Mediterranean if you like the sea, or the Alps if you love mountains and skiing. Then you have the Southwest region which is well-known for gastronomy – and that’s my region – but you can also explore Brittany, Normandy or Bourgogne Franche-Comté. You have so much to discover in France.”
Besides the continental France, there are overseas islands spread all over the globe. “The closest French island from Oman is La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. We also have islands in the Pacific Ocean like Tahiti and there are Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Carribean Sea.”
The French Ambassador attributed the confidence that the world conferred on France in the aftermath of the deadly terror attacks – from the Charlie Hebdo shootout in Paris (January 2015), Paris serial attacks (November 2015) and Nice attack (July 2016) that collectively killed nearly 250 people – to the resilience of French people and resolute government action.
“These were the first terror attacks on French soil and the entire country was shocked. In due course the government brought a strong policy of prevention and intelligence in its fight against terrorism. But more than that, the French people came together and raised their voice against terrorism and violence. This has helped the French police and security apparatus to foil many attacks. The priority for the government is to prevent any further attacks.”
A state of emergency was declared immediately after the 2015 Paris attacks, which remains in place till July this year. Contrary to the notion that it may have had an adverse impact on tourism, the French Ambassador stressed that the ‘deployment of army’ as part of ‘emergency’ has added to the sense of security of the visitors.
“The government has strengthened the security of Paris and the rest of the country. You have the presence of army in the streets protecting sensitive areas and institutions such as the mosques, temples, churches, important government buildings and tourist sites. The tourists are reassured to see that the government has taken adequate security measures,” H E Dubertrand concluded.