Wealthy Gulf tourists are expected to continue to flock to France this summer in spite of a law that prohibits Muslim women from wearing the burqa, travel agencies said.
Travel industry experts had initially feared a decline in Arab tourists after the April ban on full veils but now report no decline in peak-season bookings to France.
“I don’t think that tourism has been affected the tourism. People from the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia like to go to France. France is the capital of fashion [and] ladies they will never give up going to France,” a spokesperson for the Saudi-based Al Tayyar Travel Group told Arabian Business.
“There have been a few cancellations but the others are still there and they are going.”
France became the first European country to prohibit the wearing of the full veil in public places when it introduced the ban on April 11. The country’s President, Nicolas Sarkozy, last year labelled the burqa “a sign of servitude” and said it was not welcome in France, which is home to about five million Muslims.
Offenders are fined €150 ($216) and ordered to attend citizenship classes.
Like many European hot spots, France attracts a vast number of visitors from the Middle East during the hot summer months. Many cafes offer Arab delicacies and shisha pipes while some shops Paris operate longer working hours to accommodate the region’s late night shopping habits.
Around 215,000 Middle Easterners visited Paris last year. In spite of accounting for just three percent of the eight million foreigners to visit the French capital, visitors tend to shop more and stay in more expensive hotels, according to the Paris tourism promotion agency show.
Hotels.com, the parent company of the online travel website expedia.com, has seen a 219 percent increase in the number of searches for France from its Arabic Middle East site from April 1 to date.
Searches for Belgium, which in 2010 passed a bill banning any clothing that would obscure the identity of the wearer, have increased 300 percent said the website.
“The new law does not seem to have lessened interest,” said Lizann Peppard, a spokesperson for Hotels.com.
France is the most visited country in the world and has the third largest income in the world from tourism.