France fears climate change will hit tourism

PARIS (Reuters) - France fears climate change could erode its appeal as the world’s top tourist destination, pointing to the risk of melting snow, water shortages and disappearing beaches in a report published Wednesday.

Tourism makes up some six percent of France’s gross domestic product thanks to its sunny coast, lavender fields, ski resorts and art-rich cities, but the government report said global warming could change that.

“What kind of tourism can a seaside resort expect that loses its beach? And how much pressure from tourism can a resort that keeps its beach cope with?” said the report by the ministry of the economy’s tourism department, which is based on expectations of a 3 to 4 Celsius (37.40F-39.20F) rise in temperature to 2100.

A rise in sea levels is expected to exacerbate coastal erosion, which already affects one-fifth of France’s tourist areas. Other traditional tourism hubs such as France’s Alpine ski resorts are also likely to suffer.

Under the scenario, winter sports would no longer be possible in resorts at an altitude of 1,200 meters (3,900 ft). A 2 Celsius rise, for example, would halve the 35 ski resorts in the Alpine region of Haute-Savoie to 18, the report said.

In summer, when tourist numbers are at their highest, water is scarce and farmers need to irrigate parched fields, the effects of climate change could be dramatic, the report said: “Will we choose to irrigate golf courses or fields of maize?”

It also saw potential for social tensions if chilly northern France, which could benefit from global warming, becomes a more popular holiday destination for northern European visitors.

Not only the mainland will be hurt: the palm-fringed islands that make up France’s overseas departments, such as New Caledonia and Polynesia, could lose the coral reefs that constitute their main tourist attraction, the report said.

Global tourism has grown by about a quarter over the last decade and now accounts for some 10 percent of worldwide economic activity.

Some 82 million tourists visited France in 2007, according to national statistics bureau INSEE, making it the world’s most popular tourist destination by numbers of visitors but third by revenues, after the United States and Spain.

Reporting by Veronique Tison; writing by Sophie Hardach; Editing by Matthew Jones