|Place de la Comedia is the main square in Montpellier.|
With a live music concert, sommeliers pouring wine through ice sculptures, an acrobat performing sky-high stunts and a diamond hidden in one lucky attendee’s champagne glass, the gala soirée for Rendez-vous en France 2016 was a sparkling celebration of French tourism. Held at Montpellier’s Park & Suites Arena last month, it was an affirmation of an important economic industry after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
|The 11th Rendez-vous en France trade fair drew 740 exhibitors and 900 international tour operators to Montpellier’s Park & Suites Arena.|
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.
Host Region in the Spotlight
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 such as 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 (such as 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 a 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.
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 that 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.
|The City of Light drew much attention at Rendez-vous as a new culture-centric Paris tourism campaign was unveiled.|
New Paris Tourism Campaign
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 revamped 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, 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 is hosting the Impressionist Festival this spring and summer, 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, 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.
|The new City Hall (Hôtel de Ville), designed by Jean Nouvel, is one of Montpellier’s striking contemporary buildings created by world-renowned “starchitects.”|
In other news for 2016, the Euro 2016 will draw the world’s soccer/football fans to France to see championship games in cities such as St-Etienne, Nice, Bordeaux, Paris and Lille.
Buzzed-about Bordeaux is getting an exciting new addition in June. La Cité du Vin, 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. 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.
Next year’s Rendez-vous en France travel show will take place in Rouen, Normandy, where attendees will be housed on cruise ships.
France's Tourism Initiatives
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 number one 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, such as #TopFrenchCities, and the annual French Affairs Workshop, 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.
More News From France
|The fire did not damage the Place Vendôme, where the majority of the Ritz Paris’s rooms are housed.|
Revamped Ritz Paris Set to Reopen
The Ritz Paris is set to reopen on June 5, marking the completion of a major renovation that took several years. Originally, the hotel was set to welcome guests earlier this year but a fire broke out on January 19, delaying the opening. The fire did not damage the Place Vendôme, which houses a majority of the rooms, suites, the restaurant, the brasserie à la française, the spa and the gardens. Before the fire, the price tag for the renovation was running around the €200 million mark (about $225 million). The new revamp includes a Chanel spa, which is a first for any hotel. For more of a look inside, check out the video on the hotel’s website. The Ritz Paris first opened on June 1, 1898.
Bordeaux’s Grand Joins InterContinental
This past winter, Bordeaux’s Grand Hotel was converted into an InterContinental. Standing across from the neo-classical opera house, the five-star hotel was sumptuously decorated by French designer Jacques Garcia with operatic flourishes. Facilities include the Nuxe spa, roof terrace, reception rooms and Le Pressoir d’Argent restaurant by Gordon Ramsay. The InterContinental Bordeaux-Le Grand Hotel is the sixth establishment for the label in France. The hotel, originally built by the famed architect Victor Louis in 1789, has 130 guest rooms, including 44 suites.
Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz will soon be under Four Seasons management.
Four Seasons to Manage Hôtel du Palais
The landmark Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz will soon be managed by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. A management agreement with the city, which owns the hotel, is expected to be signed by the end of 2016. Built in 1855 by Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon III) before she sold it to the city in 1880, this grande dame was awarded the prestigious “Palace” hotel label in 2011.
New Restaurant at Royal Monceau-Raffles
Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, known for his Japanese cuisine accented with South American influences, has opened a gastronomic restaurant at Le Royal Monceau-Raffles Hotel, called Matsuhisa Paris. The new Nobu eatery replaces the hotel’s La Cuisine restaurant and is open for lunch and dinner. Le Royal Monceau will continue to serve breakfast, brunch and Italian cuisine in its Michelin-starred Il Carpaccio.
New Paris Eatery Serves Peruvian Fare
Chef Gastón Acurio, considered a global ambassador of Peruvian cuisine, has opened his first restaurant in France. Called Manko (in reference to Manco Cápac, son of the Inca Sun God), this new Parisian eatery at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées encourages diners to share portions at long, open tables. Note: Upstairs, the Manko Cabaret will stage shows on the weekends.
La Peetch Targets Culinary Travelers
La Pitchoune, aka La Peetch, where Julia and Paul Child spent summers in Provence for almost three decades, was purchased by American life coach Makenna Johnston, who is transforming it into a cooking school and wellness retreat. La Peetch École de Cuisine will launch cooking courses in 2017, and these experiences will include lodging. Rooms come with en-suite bathrooms and two twin beds or one king bed each.
TGV Train to Link Paris With Bordeaux
The French railway company, SNCF, is currently working on extending the high-speed TGV train from Tours in the Loire Valley to Bordeaux. It’s scheduled to be finished in summer 2017, effectively reducing the trip from Paris to Bordeaux to just two hours.