After a period of disenchantment during which some American restaurants actually changed their menus to include the unique item "Freedom fries," the American traveler's love affair with France appears to be back on track. In 2005 alone, the country registered an impressive uptick in visitors from the U.S., with arrivals up 10 percent from 2004.
This gives agents even more reason to love Paris in the springtime, and to sell it enthusiastically. According to Jean-Phillip Perol, director of the Americas for Maison de la France, the French Government Tourist Office, "this is the first time France has had growth stronger than the growth of the overall European market." Perol is vice-chairman of the European Travel Commission, which says more than 12 million Americans—a whopping 43 percent of Americans traveling overseas—visited Europe in 2005.
Perol believes that with some 200 million Americans who have yet to get a passport, the U.S. represents a large market for more visitors to Europe. If you're looking for potential clients to approach about Europe, the ETC says it is targeting new markets in Gen X'ers (born 1960 to 1980) which began outnumbering—and perhaps outspending—their baby boomer parents for the first time in 2005.
A more favorable exchange rate is another selling feature that should resonate. "The dollar is down to $1.17 per euro from a high of $1.36, and the picture looks bright for growth from all segments of the U.S. market," says Perol. The U.K., France and Italy are the top European destinations for Americans. But the challenge, he says, "is to convince Americans to travel...they're not used to going abroad."
To encourage visits, France is extending a friendlier hand to tourists, especially Americans, says Perol. In the past the French were considered arrogant and unhelpful, he notes, but "the country has realized the importance of American tourists. The government, hotel companies, everyone is aware of this and is providing a warmer welcome."
Perol predicts a good year for French tourism in 2006—"not double-digit growth, but probably in the range of about 6 percent," he says. One event that's expected to draw Americans is a celebration in Provence of "2006, The Year of Cézanne." See for details.