|Photo by Montpelier Office of Tourism|
A live music concert, sommeliers pouring wine through ice sculptures, an acrobat performing sky-high stunts, not to mention the diamond hidden in one lucky attendee’s champagne glass! The gala soirée for Rendez-vous en France 2016, held at Montpellier’s Park & Suites Arena on April 5, was a sparkling celebration of French tourism — an affirmation of an important economic industry after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
Rendez-vous en France is the country’s largest B2B travel fair, and the 11th edition convened 740 exhibitors and 900 international tour operators, a similar number to the last time the event was hosted outside Paris. Atout France noted the “sustained attendance rate” as proof that the international travel industry remains deeply committed to France, despite last year’s tragic events. Indeed, France has retained its position as world’s No. 1 tourist destination in terms of international arrivals for over 25 years. (Officially, there were 83.7 million arrivals in 2014, and preliminary numbers estimate close to 85 million visitors in 2015.) Tourism accounts for two million direct or indirect jobs in France, and represents 7.4 percent of GDP. The government’s goal is to increase the number to 100 million arrivals by the year 2020.
In attendance at the popular travel show were 64 American tour operators, a mix of the big players and smaller niche companies: Avanti, MLT Vacations / Delta Vacations, Eurobound, Rick Steves Tours, Shop France, Inc., Tour de Forks, etc. In discussions with Travel Agent, these tour operators praised the salon and the pre-show fam trips as an opportunity to make new contacts, strengthen existing relationships with suppliers and find new itinerary and product inspiration.
|Photo by City of Montpelier|
A Showcase for the Host Region
Rendez-vous en France rotates its location around the country in three-year cycles, and the proud host for 2016 was the newly formed Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées. In January 2016, the number of French administrative regions was reduced from 22 to 13 in an effort to simplify government bureaucracy. Languedoc-Roussillon was merged with Midi Pyrénées, and the new region’s political capital will move from Montpellier to Toulouse. The new names will be announced in June, though some regions have already released their official monikers: the merging of Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine has created the “Grand Est,” and Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie has become “Hauts-de-France.”
Covering a vast stretch of southern France, Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées attracts visitors for its sublime scenery — beaches, mountains and rolling vineyards — coupled with heritage sites like the UNESCO-listed Pont du Gard, the route of Santiago de Compostela and the medieval citadel of Carcassonne. As we recently detailed in a feature story for sister publication Luxury Travel Advisor, “Sud de France” (“South of France”) has successfully marketed Languedoc-Roussillon since its inception in 2006, and now the brand will be expanded to encompass the Midi Pyrénées as well. Sud de France will promote both the tourist destination and the products (like wine) of the newly formed region.
Travel Agent met with Frédéric Ledent, department tourism manager for Sud de France, who described the success of the Sud de France Travel Academy in certifying travel specialists. Ledent reiterated the importance of wine tourism, as this is the world’s oldest and biggest wine-producing region, and he also stressed a new focus on adventure tourism, as the region is paradise for active travelers; think hiking, skiing, golf, kite surfing, cycling and more. Sud de France has development offices in several locations worldwide, including New York and Shanghai.
At the trade fair, the spotlight was trained on Montpellier, a vibrant metropolis that’s the fastest growing city in France. With a favorable sunny climate and a setting close to Mediterranean beaches, Montpellier attracts 4,000 additional residents every year. There’s a splendid old city — with sun-bleached squares and tree-lined promenades — and a new quarter with striking contemporary buildings by some of the world’s most sought-after starchitects, including Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, Philippe Starck, and soon, Sou Fujimoto Architects, with the talked-about “White Tree” project.
|Photo by C. Gauthier|
A New Paris Tourism Campaign
Rendez-vous en France saw the launch of the new “Grand Tour” tourism initiative by the Quai d’Orsay. Highlighting the country’s cultural richness, the “Grand Tour” curates 50 exceptional events and experiences in a purple passport which will be available to the public at French embassies around the world. Samplings of these cultural celebrations include La Folle Journée in Nantes and Monumenta at the Grand Palais in Paris.
Another big focus was the city of Paris. A new culture-centric Paris tourism campaign was unveiled by Pierre Schapira, who heads the Paris Tourism and Convention Bureau. (As a result of the terrorist attacks, Paris saw a 10 percent decline in November’s tourism numbers, -20 percent in December and -10 percent in January/February 2016 over the previous year. These numbers are expected to rebound in the spring, and Schapira emphasized the security of the city, as the government has taken every precaution to welcome visitors safely.) “Paris — this grand museum — renovates and innovates,” he said, noting the bevy of new venues, including the renovated Rodin museum, the Paris Philharmonic, the Fondation Louis Vuitton and an upcoming perfume museum on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. To entice repeat visitors to Paris, the tourist office has developed five off-the-beaten-path itineraries: Paris by Night, Nature, Cosmopolitan Paris, Contemporary Art and Street Art.
In partnership with nearby Normandy — which will host the Impressionism Festival this year — Paris has chosen the Impressionism art movement as the year’s theme. “Impressionism reflects the values that we need in today’s world, like liberty, joy and nature,” said François Navarro, the managing director of the Ile-de-France tourism board. Various themed tourism offerings can be found on two websites dedicated to travel professionals: pro.visitparisregion.com and www.normandy-travel-trade.com.
In other news for 2016, the Euro 2016 will draw the world’s soccer/football fans to France to see championship games in cities like St-Etienne, Nice, Bordeaux, Paris and Lille.
Buzzed-about Bordeaux is getting an exciting new addition in June. La Cité du Vin (www.laciteduvin.com), a dramatically designed multimedia museum on the banks of the Garonne river, is expected to become an iconic city monument. The ambitious museum will explore wine civilization and host workshops, lectures and exhibitions. Perched on the 7th floor, the panoramic restaurant will offer sweeping views.
In northern France, Picardy will welcome the Franco-American museum, Chateau de Blérancourt (www.americanfriendsofblerancourt.org). And the Canal du Midi is celebrating a big birthday; it’s been 350 years since work began on the waterway that links the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, today recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Atout France USA
Travel Agent sat down with Anne-Laure Tuncer, director of Atout France USA, to discuss objectives for 2016. France continues to ride a wave of popularity amongst American travelers. Early estimates of tourism numbers indicate that American visitors were up 5 percent to 3.3 million in 2015 (source: ARC). Americans continue to be the No. 1 nationality visiting Paris, and in an exciting development for 2015, Americans were also the top nationality for visiting the surrounding Ile-de-France region.
For this year, the focus is on urban tourism (aligned with the Euro 2016) and wine tourism, after the launch of Atout France’s new dedicated website: www.visitFrenchwine.com. Golf tourism continues to be a priority, as well, in advance of the 2018 Ryder Cup which will be held in France. Despite its 700 golf facilities and award-winning courses, France is an unsung destination for golf.
Atout France produces popular e-marketing campaigns, like #TopFrenchCities, and the annual French Affairs Workshop (www.frenchaffairs.us), which will be held over a three-day weekend in October in New York. It is always a pivotal event for the travel trade community.
Next year’s Rendez-vous en France travel show will take place in Rouen, Normandy, where attendees will also be housed on cruise ships.