You would think France, one of Europe’s most popular vacation destinations, wouldn’t have to worry about attracting visitors, but Maison de la France, the government tourist board, has pinpointed several factors that could slow the number of U.S. visitors to France in 2008. They include continued high oil prices and a weak U.S. dollar. Furthermore, the looming mortgage crisis could threaten purchasing power. And 2008 is an election year. All of this and more are why you can expect to see a big marketing push from the organization next year, targeted at both consumers the trade.
“We are expecting a 3 percent growth of U.S. travelers to France next year and it’s a little disappointing because with a normal dollar, we would make 10 percent,” says Jean-Philippe Pérol, director of the Americas for Maison de la France.
And so the organization is developing a year-round tourism strategy, promoting such places as Cannes and Martinique during the winter season and focusing ad materials on the cultural identities of regions like the Rhone Alps, Provence and Brittany. In the consumer market, the French will reach out to such segments as the Jewish, gay and Hispanic communities, with a heavy focus on Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.
Meanwhile, the 2008 trade campaign will make up 20 percent of Maison de la France’s marketing budget, including fam trips and seminars. In 2008, the organization hopes to add another 1,000 agents to the existing 500 agents who have participated in the organization’s France certification, a program it runs in conjunction with the Travel Institute.
“The program began four years ago and next year we are trying to benefit agents more by putting them as the first point of contact for the public when they reach out to us,” says Pérol.
Other travel agent-focused initiatives next year include a media tour in nine major cities, the development of virtual road shows and attendance at only niche trade shows, such as Luxury Travel Expo at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, December 4-6. The decision makes sense, as Pérol reports today’s American in France is much more sophisticated than in previous years.
“The biggest number of people are coming to France for a cultural experience,” he says, “visiting cities for their architecture or shopping. They know more about French wine than French people. I’ve also been surprised to see the number of American tourists increasing during French festivals. They come out perhaps more than French people.”