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France Seeks to Lure More Tourists With Better Welcome

Key to the Heart? One Man's Campaign Reunites Locks and Lovers 0:39

France, the world's top tourism draw, on Thursday announced a scheme to lure in even more tourists with a fund intended to boost everything from hotels to its wine heritage, and urged the French to be more welcoming.

With the attractions of the capital Paris, its Loire Valley chateaux, Alpine ski resorts, Riviera beaches and gastronomic pleasures, France has been the world's most visited country since the 1980s, welcoming 84 million tourists last year.

It hopes to boost that to 100 million by 2020, banking on a sector that already employs 2 million to contribute more to growth in the euro zone's second largest economy, still struggling to shake off a downturn.

"Tourism is a national treasure that needs to be protected, nurtured and developed - that's the aim of all these measures," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said of the launch in coming months of a Tourism Investment Fund (FIT).

In a reference to the sometimes gruff welcome offered to tourists by the natives, Fabius said a humorous publicity campaign would be launched, encouraging the French to improve service levels and help out tourists when they could.

"To put it diplomatically, we have room for improvement here ... When we come up against a foreign tourist, we are all ambassadors for France," Fabius said.

The 47.1 billion euros of revenues it extracted from visitors in 2013 lagged well behind those of the United States, which managed to squeeze 130.4 billion from 70 million visitors.

Campaigns to boost security for tourists and translate signs at airports into other languages have helped increase the average length of stay, now at around 7 days.

But Fabius said the aim was to go further, calling on those French TV channels broadcast abroad to promote French regions with feature documentaries while asking for foreign channels broadcasting the Tour de France cycle race to publicize links to tourism websites.

Xiao Liu from Beijing, on honeymoon, put the daily budget for herself and her husband at $430, twice the monthly minimum wage in Beijing.

She described Paris as "a compulsory step" on a tour of Europe but complained: "There are no road signs in English. Everything is in French. It's really not practical."