France Focuses on 'Living Culture'

France's Secretary of State in Charge of Tourism, Minister Frederic Lefebvre, visited New York last week to talk about how France is promoting itself as a tourism destination and how the country is holding on to its place  as a vital player in Europe's travel market.

While France still remains high in visitor numbers, sales for travel to and in the country are down, he told Travel Agent. As such, the tourism board looked at marketing campaigns in Spain and other nearby countries to see how they might boost their numbers.

"The U.S. loves France, " Lefebvre said. "They love the history and culture, but the younger generation is interested in design, fashion and movies."

To that end, he said, the tourism board is looking to create itineraries that are suited for younger visitors from all over the world, promoting what Lefebvre calls the nation's "living heritage"—food, wine, fashion, movies and entertainment.

For example, oenophiles have always been drawn to the Bordeaux region, but there are many more great destinations throughout France for premium vintages. The tourism board has created a distinct itinerary that brings visitors all the way from Alsace to Burgundy, showing off plenty of vineyards and local flavors. Music lovers, meanwhile, can build their trips around musical festivals and events held throughout the year.

"France is changing," the Minister said. "France is innovating and investing in culture and research." Also underway is the Grand Paris (Greater Paris) project, which he hopes will bring visitors to areas of the city that they might otherwise have missed. "There is a lot of cultural wealth in terms of design, music, fashion, parties and events--and and those places as well would appeal to Americans."

Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency, will be training agents to help them provide their clients with the best information possible, the Minister said.

"We are trying to increase the quality of the welcome we're offering to visitors," he explained. "With high airline prices and an exchange rate that might seem challenging, the Agency knows that they must be able to provide a high-quality experience for guests."

And the steps already seem to be working: While overall numbers have been declining over the last six months, Lefebvre acknowledged, the people who do come to France are staying longer and doing more things.



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