Here in Paris, excitement brewed over President Barack Obama’s visit for the D-Day commemoration, and bloggers giddily reported sightings of Michelle Obama and the girls across town over the weekend. The popularity of the U.S. President translates into a real tourism boost for France, as a buzz has been generated worldwide about the sights the President frequented in Normandy and Paris.
“Political relations have a strong impact on tourism,” explained Jean-Philippe Pérol, director of the Americas for Atout France and chairman of the European Travel Commission, in a conversation with Travel Agent. “And the link between the U.S. and France has always been special.”
In the aftermath of September 11 and the events leading up to the Iraq War, U.S. arrivals plummeted. But since the election of pro-American President Nicolas Sarkozy, France has seen tourism numbers on the rise. The U.S. remains one of the top sources of tourism for France, with American visitors spending $5 billion last year.
The launch of Atout France (“Advantage France”), the new France tourism development agency, will certainly help to increase tourism revenue. France remains the world’s number one tourism destination in terms of the number of visitors (79 million in 2008), but ranked number three in terms of tourism revenue. The main goal for Atout France, says Jean-Philippe Pérol, is to increase those revenues with a results-minded policy and investment in a quality product. “It’s important that communities feel the effects of tourism on their local economies,” he said.
Atout France is the result of the merger between Maison de la France, the French promotional tourism agency, and ODIT France, the tourism engineering and investment agency. Prior to the merger, Maison de la France was responsible for the marketing of France as a destination in the 30 different countries where its field offices are located, while ODIT handled touristical engineering, market research, and the export of French tourism know-how to other countries worldwide.
Now the sole national organization for tourism, Atout France is a public and private partnership. As such, Atout France is a unique model for administrative agencies— building upon the success of Bienvenue France in the 1980s, and Maison de la France since 1987, which was founded with 75 members, and now has 1,300 in the public/private sector (e.g. cities, tourism offices, Accor Hotels, Air France, etc). The new association will have the same goals as its contingent parts, but will tackle new areas as well. Atout France will now be responsible for the country’s hotel classification system, and licensing of tour operators. As Maison de la France and ODIT coordinate their expertise, touristic investments will be made on the ground based on the needs of international tourists defined by market research.
Pictured here, the new corporate logo will be used for communication to travel trade professionals alongside the France brand logo unveiled in June 2008 at the National Tourism Conference (incorporating a female figure depicting “Marianne,” a national symbol since the French Revolution). The France brand alone will be used for consumer advertising and promotion to the general public.
As a former travel agent, founding his own agency in 1979 and later selling it to Wagon-Lits, Pérol understands the importance of agents for the business. Atout France will continue to make significant investments for those who sell France as a destination. In addition to online training programs, seminars, webinars, fam trips, and e-newsletters, Atout France will hone its destination specialist program (in partnership with the Travel Institute). Five-hundred people have already received their diploma as a certified France specialist, and 1,000 are currently studying in the program. Within the next year, Atout France will unveil a new agent specialist program specifically designed for the American market.