Creating a Tourist's Paradise: The Marshall Plan and France, 1948 to 1952. (Dossier: Promoting American Tourism in Postwar France)

Article excerpt

In 1949, French officials at the Chicago consulate issued an urgent memo to Henri Bonnet, the French ambassador, about the consequences of new French and American programs aimed at promoting transatlantic tourism. Americans, the consul warned, "think that France, and particularly Paris, is becoming the playground of America." (1) Paris, the consul continued, was perceived essentially as a tourist space, a place "where the citizens of the United States can free themselves of all constraints." He wondered how the American public would ever be able to understand the "difficulties of life faced by the mass of the French population."

This study examines the promotion of American tourism to France during the period of the Marshall Plan, 1948 to 1952. It addresses two sets of questions. The first relates to policy issues. How did French and American officials and tourism promoters develop and implement policy, and what goals did the program hope to achieve? What was their assessment of the program at the conclusion of the Marshall Plan?

A second set of questions concerns the relationship between the tourism program and the so-called Americanization of France. To what extent did promoting American tourism contribute to this? Did the French tourism industry resist or desire Americanization? Americanization, of course, is a contested concept, and the use of the term by postwar critics of the United States further complicates its use by scholars today. However, recent scholarship has bolstered the term's analytical value by linking it with the concept of globalization. (2) If globalization, following Philip Gordon and Sophie Meunier, refers to "the increasing speed, ease and extent with which capital, goods, services, technologies, people, cultures, information, and ideas now cross borders," then Americanization refers to the centrality of the US in this process, which has been prominent at specific historical moments. (3) As Henry Kissinger has put it, "What is called globalization is really another name for the dominant role of the United States." (4) Polls indicate that it is the threat of Americanization that makes the French most apprehensive about globalization. (5) Furthermore, the concept of globalization has a distinctly post-Cold War ring to it. Americanization is useful because it reminds us of the existence of other, competing models such as the Third Way or the Soviet Union. For historians studying postwar France--a time of unparalleled US influence on policy, economics, and culture--Americanization remains an important concept.

The Marshall Plan programs to promote tourism offer an arena for examining the relationship between Americanization and globalization. The marketing of tourism has long been seen as a quintessential form of global consumerism. As anthropologist Jon Abbink has argued, tourism serves as an "avant-garde" of globalization because it advances the creation of a global and globalizing consumer identity. (6) Transatlantic air travel, moreover, which as we will see gained impressive ground during the Marshall Plan era, is arguably the paradigmatic example of time/space compression for globalization theorists. (7) Likewise, tourism has figured prominently in debates over cultural homogenization as a product of globalization. Because tourism entails the commodification of the travel experience it is often seen as a homogenizing force. But at the same time, much of the appeal of tourism lies in its capacity to expose travelers to cultural distinctness and notions of cultural authenticity. French and American planners were aware of this tension, I argue, and attempted to balance homogenization and distinctness. Gordon and Meunier argue that mainstream French leaders have embraced key economic aspects of globalization while resisting the very cultural changes these economic transformations entail. (8) My analysis of American tourism in France provides a historical case study of how French leaders responded and adapted to globalization with an American face, that of a tourist. …