Tourism on Top: Report From Rendez-vous en France 2018

Photo by Cédric Helsly / Atout France

Paris is no stranger to the stage— starring in more films than we can count. Suffice it to say that the capital’s latest role— as a showcase for the French tourist industry’s enormous savoir-faire— was on fine display for the 13th edition of Rendez-vous en France. Even the spring rain couldn’t dampen the City of Light’s allure, as the French tourism’s largest B2B trade show returned to the capital. For the two-day event, 750 French exhibitors and 950 tour operators from five continents converged on the Porte de Versailles Convention Center for 25,000 meetings. In attendance were 62 American tour operators, including Avanti Destinations, Duvine Cycling and Adventure Co, and Celebrity Cruises, which has an in-house team designing pre- and post-cruise itineraries.  

The mood was celebratory… and there’s a good reason why. Atout France, the tourism development agency, recently announced that an estimated 89 million visitors traveled to France in 2017, a jump of nearly 8 percent from 2016, affirming the country’s position as the world’s No. 1 tourist destination. The government’s targets are 100 million visitors in France in 2020, corresponding to 50 billion euros in revenues. 

After a difficult downward trend following the 2015 terrorist attacks, Paris is back on top, with a record tourism year. Greater Paris exceeded 23 million hotel arrivals for the first time ever, with an estimated 40 million visitors when accounting for all accommodation combined. The return of Rendez-vous en France to Paris coincided with this tourism rebound. As the biggest French marketplace for tourism professionals, the trade show rotates its location in three-year cycles in order to highlight other French regions. Following Montpellier (2016) and Rouen (2017), Paris was in the spotlight this year. Next year it will be held in Marseille.  

Beyond the networking, Rendez-vous en France affords an opportunity to show off its host destination’s charms. The invitees were also introduced to the cultural riches of the surrounding Ile-de-France region, including a visit to Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, the world’s largest antiques market and a favorite haunt of celebrity designers and fashionistas. The opening night soiree took place at La Seine Musicale, a grand new concert hall created on an island in the Seine just west of the city. The Ile Seguin used to be a derelict industrial site occupied by a Renault car factory, and now it’s been given a new lease on life by the architectural dream team of Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines. The Paris-focused pre-show familiarization trips highlighted off-the-beaten path itineraries, including street art tours in the suburbs. A total of 40 different fam trips took place across France prior to the show. 

Fun food fact: A total of 1,000 guests were welcomed for lunch at the Saint-Ouen flea market, and daily multi-course meals are de rigueur at Rendez-vous en France. The logistics of hosting seated affairs for more than 2,000 people does not faze the event organizers. After all, gastronomy is as much a part of the French cultural patrimony as Impressionist art. In 2010, the “gastronomic meal of the French” was recognized by UNESCO as part of the “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” An annual event called Good France/Goût de France was then launched in 2015, as the brainchild of super chef Alain Ducasse and the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. It’s an around-the-world celebration of French cuisine, as 3,000 restaurants and 150 embassies across five continents host the world’s “biggest French dinner” in March. 

Photo by Cédric Helsly / Atout France

What’s New in 2018? 

In conversation with Travel Agent, Anne-Laure Tuncer, director of Atout France USA, noted the healthy rebound of American tourists to France in 2017. Preliminary estimates indicate a 16 percent increase since 2016, and Q1 2018 is looking strong as well. For the travel trade community in the U.S., the next edition of French Affairs, the popular workshop hosted by Atout France, will take place in Chicago in the autumn. 

2018 looks to be an exciting year with a number of new museum openings and events. Tuncer underscored the importance of the Ryder Cup, which will take place in France in September 2018. This is the first time the major golf tournament takes place in Continental Europe, and as such, “it will be a showcase for golf in France,” Tuncer explained. There are 600 courses in the country, and the French Federation of Golf has worked hard to democratize the sport.  

In addition, all eyes will continue to be on Bordeaux, as the new Musée de la Mer will open in June with a large-scale exhibition of Claude Monet’s paintings of the sea. A new high-speed train connects Paris and Bordeaux in two hours, meaning it’s easier than ever to access the world-famous wine region and the buzzed-about Cité du Vin, a spectacular wine museum which opened to much fanfare and celebration in 2016. Another big opening this year will be the Museum of Roman Culture in Nîmes, while LUMA, an art foundation financed by Maja Hoffmann in Arles, will soon show off a mind-blowing tower by architect Frank Gehry.  

Tuncer also notes the importance of the World War I Centennial this year, while looking ahead to 2019, when Normandy will celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.  

500 Years of Renaissance(s) in the Loire Valley 

A highlight of Rendez-vous en France was the press conference outlining one of the major events of 2019. Famous for its regal chateaux, the Loire Valley will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance, as 1519 was a symbolic year, marking the death of Leonardo da Vinci at the Chateau du Clos-Lucé in Amboise, the first foundations laid for Francois I’s Chambord Chateau, and the birth of Catherine de Medici.  

François Bonneau, president of the Centre-Val de Loire Region, described how a wealth of cultural, artistic and scientific events will take place throughout the region. There will also be architectural competitions and exhibits showcasing the latest digital technology. The idea is to continue to foster artistic and scientific creativity in a place renowned for it.  

Catherine Simon-Marion, executive vice president for the Chateau du Clos-Lucé, described Leonardo da Vinci as a symbol of art and science, a man who incarnated the “possible” and always anticipated the future. As a figure who speaks to everyone, Leonardo da Vinci is an apt embodiment of an ambitious region-wide event that aims to traverse international boundaries.  

Paris Is Always a Good Idea 

With a melange of beloved landmarks and cutting-edge new attractions, Paris never gets old for tourists. Already make a pilgrimage to the Louvre and Eiffel Tower? New highlights include the Yves Saint Laurent Paris Museum; Lafayette Anticipations, a Rem Koolhaas-designed exhibition tower opened by Galeries Lafayette; the Atelier des  Lumières, a digital arts center housed in a former foundry in the 11th; and La Monnaie de Paris (the Paris Mint), which has completed a transformation into a contemporary art center overlooking the Seine River. 

The City of Light will see a host of new hotel openings this year. Hot on the heels of renovated grande dames the Ritz and Crillon, it’s the Lutetia’s turn to shine with a highly anticipated renovation by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. The St Germain landmark facing Le Bon Marché department store will soon show off its new look, along with a glass-roofed wellness center and a restaurant by triple Michelin-starred chef Gérald Passédat. Fauchon, the gourmet food emporium, will open a hotel on the Place de la Madeleine, and the Luxury Collection will debut the Hotel de Berri not far from the Champs-ÉlyséesEvok Hotels, the group behind the buzzy Nolinski, will unveil the Philippe Starck-designed Brach in the 16th arrondissement this year, while in the near future, Paris will welcome a Bulgari Hotel and the Cheval Blanc Samaritaine housed in the legendary department store. 

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