For 10 years, Atout France has staged Rendez-vous en France, its biggest and most important trade fair. The popular forum rotates its location around the Hexagon in three-year cycles, and it’s only fitting that the 10th anniversary brought it back to the French capital. On March 30, the opening soirée saw a giddy crowd pack the Lido’s glitzy theatre on the Champs-Elysées to get a behind-the-scenes look at the new cabaret show before its official debut. The next day at the Parc des Expositions at Porte de Versailles, Rendez-vous en France brought together 920 international tour operators and 750 French exhibitors for 22,000 face-to-face meetings. Some 70 American tour operators were in attendance, and these travel impresarios affirmed to Travel Agent the show’s importance for developing new relationships with suppliers, strengthening existing ones, and finding itinerary inspiration. In the wake of the January terrorist attacks in Paris, tour operators saw minimal cancellations of France trips.
Atout France USA
For over 25 years, France has been the world’s number one tourist destination in terms of number of arrivals (officially 84.7 million in 2013). As a key industry for France, tourism represents 7.43 percent of GDP.
“For Americans, France continues to be the top long-haul destination after Mexico and Canada,” said Anne-Laure Tuncer, director USA-Atout France. “A recent Gallup survey confirms that Americans esteem France in a favorable light; in fact, the image of France has never been so high.”
Earlier in the year, Virtuoso released statistics showing 22 percent more bookings for France for the January-March period.
“More and more Americans are also exploring other parts of France beyond the tourist capital of Paris,” explained Tuncer.
Atout France USA is therefore helping support key regions focused on the American market. Poitou-Charentes will have a big year in 2015, when the Hermione—the reconstruction of the Marquis de La Fayette’s 18th century frigate—arrives in Yorktown after a transatlantic crossing. Constructed in the port of Rochefort on the Atlantic coast, the ship was built with 18th century materials and ship-building technology, and is a proud symbol of the Franco-American historic friendship. The Hermione will spend the summer sailing up and down the East Coast, stopping in New York for July 4th.
The Île-de-France region is also courting Americans to venture a bit out of Paris to discover places like Auvers-sur-Oise, where Van Gogh lived and died. Lastly, Caribbean islands like Martinique and Guadeloupe are being promoted as “the closest French destination to the U.S.,” and new direct flights connecting Miami to Martinique are an added allure.
In addition to Rendez-vous en France, Atout France USA hosts the annual French Affairs Workshop, which is a key event for the travel trade community. To be held in Atlanta from October 18-19, 2015, French Affairs will welcome 100 tour operators.
To promote France to the general public, Atout France USA has a robust e-marketing strategy. Recent themed campaigns, like “Romantic Martinique,” have recruited top bloggers and social media influencers to drive awareness of the Caribbean island as a wedding destination. The “Meet Martinique” mini-site (http://meetmartinique.rendezvousenfrance.com) showcased tweets and live Instagram feeds from four bridal bloggers reveling in the island’s beauty. The digital campaign raised a lot of interest, with over 48,000 entries in a trip sweepstakes.
What's New for 2015
France has a bevy of new attractions, hotel openings, and buzzy events for 2015. It’s the bicentennial year for Napoleon’s return from exile and defeat at Waterloo, with interesting exhibits in Paris museums and events (including reenactments) in the provinces. Bordeaux was named “European Destination of the Year” in an online poll organized by the Brussels-based European Best Destinations group. On March 19, the first edition of Goût de France/Good France mobilized 1300 chefs on five continents to host a special French meal at their restaurants. Organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and star chef Alain Ducasse, the event celebrated French gastronomy as a tool of international diplomacy.
In Normandy, Mont St Michel will return to its natural island state in 2015. A massive engineering project over a 10-year period removed the silt from the bay, after demolishing the eyesore of a causeway connecting the island to the mainland. Normandy is also celebrating a brand new museum in Rouen, the city where Joan of Arc was tried for heresy and then burned at the stake. Called L’Historial Jeanne d’Arc, the museum explores the myth and real-life story of the country’s patron saint. L’Historial is housed in the Palais de l’Archevêche, a magnificent, heritage-listed building where Joan of Arc’s actual trials took place. Rouen also recently unveiled a cool cultural venue called the Panorama XXL, where visitors gape at 360 degree projected images of various themes (like a reconstruction of Ancient Rome under Constantine.) Just two hours from Paris, Rouen is famed for the cathedral that Claude Monet painted in a series of more than 30 canvases. Indeed Normandy was the birthplace of Impressionism, and the region is gearing up for the spectacular Normandy Impressionist Festival (2016), which takes place every three years.
In the Loire Valley, 2015 is a celebration of François I, the Renaissance king who was the patron of Leonardo da Vinci. He first assumed the throne 500 years ago, and the region’s sumptuous chateaux will fete his honor with events, exhibitions, and reenactments. The region is also promoting the Loire à Vélo cycling path, which is one of the biggest such routes in France, winding through 800 kilometers of flat, scenic countryside.
In Paris, the city has unveiled exciting new cultural venues like the Philharmonie de Paris, the brand new concert hall designed by award-winning architect Jean Nouvel.
Pre-Show FAM Trips
A highlight for American tour operators are the pre-show fam trips, showcasing the best the French regions have to offer. This year 17 different regions orchestrated 36 different trips.
Colombe McCarthy of Destinations & Adventures praised her tour as an in-depth immersion into Burgundy wine country. “We were lucky to dine in Michelin-starred restaurants, visit splendid abbeys, taste fabulous wines, discover the many uses of black truffles, and stay in great hotels. A highlight was learning about a new way to visit the famous Cluny Abbey; guided tours come with tablets so that each guest can see 3D reconstructions and images that add insight to the guide’s explanations. I also learned that Clos de Vougeot isn’t just an interesting location for special events; it’s also a great stop for individuals and groups.”
In describing her trip to Brittany, Frontiers International’s Jill Jergel said, “Often overlooked by North Americans, the region has a mystical Celtic component. Even to this old veteran of France travel, Brittany’s villages, castles, and seaside vistas were such a delight, not to mention the caramel made from salted butter. I will definitely start recommending Brittany to clients.”
Anne and Kirk Woodyard of Music and Markets Tours were thrilled to experience the Midi-Pyrénées because they are developing a new tour around the Marciac Jazz Festival, which will also explore the enticing Gascony region.
“The trip was a perfect fit for our Music and Markets tours since we have a strong focus on wine, cuisine and culture in addition to music.”