FROM 1 February all telephone inquiries to the French Government Tourist Office in Piccadilly, London, will be handled by a new toll-line France Information service.

The decision has been made after years of criticism about the difficulties of getting through to the FGTO by phone (the chorus of complaints was led by Independent readers, who kept up a stream of angry letters on the subject).

The new service, which is being run for the FGTO by Europ Assistance, will be available by dialling 0891 244123: the charge will be 36p per minute cheap rate and 48p per minute peak rate. France's decision to run a toll-line for inquiries follows a similar move made by both the Dutch and US tourist offices.

Calls will be answered between 9am and 10pm and from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays. Ten 'specially trained operators' will handle the calls.

Patrick Goyet, FGTO director in London, says that the service is intended to be self-financing: 'We are not looking to make a profit, we only want to cover our costs.' Mr Goyet says that people who call requiring complicated answers will not be told to hang on at 48p per minute: 'We will phone them back.'

Mr Goyet said that the number of British tourists travelling to France fell by 3 per cent last year to 7.5 million - the first fall since 1988. With the opening of the Channel tunnel and the celebrations in June to mark the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the FGTO expects tourism to rise by at least 12 per cent this year.