Every man has two countries – his own, and France

France is the world’s most popular tourist destination. In 2012 83 million people visited France, compared to the country’s native population of 66 million – 16 million more than the second-place country, the United States.

” . . So ask the travelled inhabitant of any nation, In what country on earth would you rather live?
Certainly in my own, where are all my friends, my relations,
and the earliest and sweetest affections and recollections of my life.

Which would be your second choice? France.” [Thomas Jefferson]

At close to 100 billion euros per annum value, tourism is a more significant sector of the French Economy than the automotive industry, contributing more than 7% towards the Gross Domestic Product. Surprisingly, only 17% of visitors come to Paris and those that do spend less than 3 nights there.

Inland waterways tourism plays a small, but significant and growing part in this picture.

HIRE BOATS (Bateaux de Location) – 65m€

France has a large number of boats available for hire for holidays and vacations. The vast majority of these are owned and operated by just four key operators – LeBoat, Locaboat, Nicols and FPP. The following approximate figures relate only to these and ignore smaller companies.

These four main operators have a total of 1,250 boats, operating from 80 bases. The season lasts for 30 weeks each year. Each base should expect an average of 300 bookings per annum.

120,000 guests stay on hire boats each year, from 25,250 separate bookings. The annual sales value to the hire boat firms of this is 50.5m euros (50,500,000 €) and guests can also be expected to spend a total of 14.5m euros (14,500,000 €) on products and services during their holiday period.

1/3rd of renters are French, 2/3rds (80,000) are not.

HOTEL BARGES (Péniches-Hôtels) – 41m€

Hotel barges ply the canals and smaller rivers of France. They vary in size (capacities from 2 cabins upwards to 20 or more), and service or luxury level. There are 70 barges, providing an overall total of 300 cabins to an annual total of 10,000 guests.

An overwhelming majority of guests are not French, they are mainly Anglophone and a significant proportion are American.

Assuming an average charge of 4,000 euros per person per week, the annual sales value to the hotel barge sector is 40m euros (40,000,000 €) and guests or their hosts (cruise prices are often all-inclusive) can also be expected to spend a total of 1.3m euros on shoreside products and services during their vacation.

Each hotel barge earns an average of approximately 130,000€ (euros) per cabin during the season, although as noted this will vary significantly according to capacity and luxury level.

Many barges rely significantly on obtaining bookings through specialist travel agents. Assuming an overall average of 50% of sales derived in this way, the sales value attributable to agents would be 20m€ (euros) and the agents themselves would receive approximately 3.0m€ in commissions.

RIVER CRUISE SHIPS (Paquebôts Fluvial) – 278m€

There are 30 large (130m x 11.5m) cruise ships carrying an average of 115 guests each travelling the bigger French rivers – that is, the Seine, Rhone, Saone and Rhine. They can accommodate 4,185 guests in total and carry 197,000 guests during the 40 week annual season – a total of 844,000 nights.

Assuming an average charge of 310€ per person per night (cruises vary as to duration), the annual sales value to the river cruise sector is 261.5m euros (261,500,000 €) and guests can also be expected to spend 16.75m€ (euros) on other products and services.

Each river cruise ship earns an average of 220,000 euros per week during the season.

CANAL-SIDE TOURISM (Tourisme Fluvestre)

Canals are engineered to be level (with locks to accommodate changes in level) and in recent years their tow-paths have been upgraded to provide superb routes for cycling and walking.

France is the world’s leading destination for cycle tourism, represented by 5.5 million stays by French people each year and 1.7 million by foreigners. ‘The bicycle’ contributes 3.5m euros annually into the French economy.

PRIVATE BOATS (Plaisance Privée)

According to VNF (French National Waterways) there are also 20,000 active private boats on the inland waterways, 50% of which are foreign owned.


  • Each year over 330,000 guests enjoy a holiday/vacation cruising the French Waterways – on a hire boat, hotel barge or river cruise ship. A large majority of these guests are not French and a significant proportion is English-speaking.
  • They spend a total of 352m€ paying for their cruise.
  • They also spend an additional 32m€ on additional or incidental products and services.
  • This sector of the French economy has grown consistently at 4% p.a.
  • 40% of sales decisions are prompted by personal recommendation, 30% via the internet.
  • In addition, there are significant numbers of cycle and walking tourists and private boat users.

Sources :
VNF Tourism Study 2011
Waterways Tourism Conference 2010
Economic and Other Benefits of Inland Waterways (Sheffield Hallam University) 2007
Waterway Tourism Review