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The French Government Tourist Office has begun a 900 telemarketing telephone number, costing callers 50 cents a minute, to respond to requests for information.

The office says it is the first national tourist bureau to use a 900 number. When 900-420-2003 is dialed, callers reach a panel of advisers in Washington, with access to information stored in computers on hotels, restaurants and transportation and other facilities in France.The service is operated by Europ Assistance, an insurance company, and a leaflet about its travel insurance is included with travel brochures sent to callers.

A spokesman for the tourist office said the insurance company pays a third of the cost of the service, which began last month. He added that the operation can help more callers more efficiently than the tourist office itself, which is not equipped to handle a high volume of telephone inquiries from travelers. The Washington office has been receiving 200 to 450 calls a day, he said.