The ninth edition of the Rendez-vous en France trade show attracted 800 international tour operators and over 600 French suppliers for more than 20,000 face-to-face meetings.
The ninth edition of the Rendez-vous en France travel trade show kicked off on March 31 with a soirée at the Vulcania theme park outside Clermont-Ferrand. As the host of tourism development agency Atout France’s biggest and most important trade fair, the Auvergne region in central France had a moment in the spotlight, and Vulcania is a great place to throw a party. With attractions that are both educational and adrenaline-pumping, the park is designed like a giant conical volcano, which is apt given its unique location in the Chaîne des Puys, a string of dormant volcanoes traversing the Massif Central.
The next day, the forum brought together 800 international tour operators and 660 French suppliers for more than 20,000 face-to-face meetings in the Grande Halle d’Auvergne. There were 42 American tour operators in attendance, including Jet Vacations, International Seminar Design, Eurobound Tours, and Duvine Cycling, who affirmed to Travel Agent the importance of discovering products while in situ. John Romano, president of LinkParis.com, pinpointed a very tangible goal: creating new Strasbourg and Bordeaux itineraries by meeting with carefully selected partners.
“The salon is very well-organized,” said Kathy Morton of Tour de Forks. “The appointments are coordinated online, so that I arrive at the venue with my schedule in hand. It’s the best place for developing new relationships with suppliers and for strengthening existing relationships. The salon inspires me with new ideas and I get excited to share with my clients the latest trends in France.”
|The trade show showcased some of the latest travel options and trends from France.|
France continues to reign as the world’s most visited country with more than 83 million international tourist arrivals in 2012 generating 35.8 billion euros ($49.6 billion) in revenue. This represents 7.12 percent of the country’s GDP, and is therefore a key economic industry fostered by Atout France.
“France is the #1 long-haul destination for Americans after Mexico and Canada,” Anne-Laure Tuncer, director USA-Atout France, told Travel Agent. “France is very popular right now in the U.S., with French references everywhere—like Bloomingdale’s new “Marseilles” furniture collection and Starbuck’s partnership with “La Boulange.” The number of American visitors is growing, with Paris reporting a 15 percent increase in overnight stays last year. But with 70-80 percent of Americans only staying in Paris, our goal is to inspire visitors to discover other French regions—so easily accessible on our excellent train network and roads.”
Regions such as the Rhône-Alpes and Île-de-France continue to focus on attracting American visitors, while Provence has ramped up marketing because the ROI is so high when promoting to the key U.S. market. Poitou-Charentes is also courting Americans. “We focus on unique selling points,” explained Tuncer. “For example, the Midi-Pyrénées, home to the world-renowned pilgrimage site of Lourdes, developed a campaign related to spiritual tourism, influenced by the popular book Eat, Pray, Love.”
Normandy has also invested a lot in reaching the American market in 2014, promoting the big events that it will host this summer: the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the World Equestrian Games. As Presidents Barack Obama and François Hollande and other allied heads of state arrive in Normandy in June, all the world’s gaze will be on the region, which means a large-scale PR opportunity for tourism.
“There’s a perception that France is a predictable destination,” said Tuncer, “and we want to change that. France takes care of its heritage, but is also a hotbed for innovation. Similarly, France is known as a place for romance, but it’s also an ideal destination for families. We’re also promoting milestone events; weddings, for example, are far cheaper to host in France, even if you factor in the airfare.”
Atout France U.S. has a three-pronged strategy, with activity targeting the travel trade, the press, and the general public. Along with Rendez-vous en France, the annual French Affairs workshop is key for the trade community, welcoming 100 tour operators to a different American city each fall. “Tour operators are really important for us,” explained Tuncer. “Companies like Colette Vacations are reporting fantastic growth, and they’re seeking new ideas, focusing on experiential travel.” For the grand public, Atout France launched a new glossy consumer magazine called Le Point-Rendez-vous en France, and an exclusive online community called FrancePassion. Atout France has invested in cutting-edge digital products, working with external partners on dozens of themed e-campaigns, like river cruising/barging, to reach their database of 1.6 opt-in subscribers.
Prior to the trade show, the French regions pull out all the stops to showcase their best tourism offerings. Tour de Forks’ Kathy Morton joined international tour operators on a fam trip to the Burgundy wine region. “We met with wine producers and toured their vineyards, sipped quality Pinot Noir wine in cellars, strolled through colorful markets, discovered historical monuments, dined on local specialties, cooked with a chef, and—la crème de la crème for me—biked among the vines along the Route des Grand Crus.”
World War I Centenary
During Rendez-vous en France there was significant buzz around the Great War Centenary, as 2014 marks 100 years since the first battle of World War I, and major events will take place in commemoration across France. The deadliest war that the world has ever known was a defining event in modern history, touching every continent. “This is a collective memory on the international level,” explained historian Damien Baldin in a press conference, “and it is France’s duty to welcome these visitors in the best way possible.”
Spotlight: Host Region Auvergne
As the host destination of the trade show, the Auvergne invested heavily in brand marketing: promoting tourism while working to enhance the image of the region. It is precisely this reason that Rendez-vous en France rotates its location in three-year cycles: so that tour operators are exposed to lesser-known, emerging regions they might not experience otherwise. (It returns to Paris in 2015.)
With perfectly preserved landscapes and natural spas (such as Vichy), the Auvergne is capitalizing on its “values,” as “nature” and “authenticity” are buzzwords in travel right now.
Indeed, Sandy Shapiro from Five Senses Culinary Tours was struck by the authenticity of the Auvergne on her pre-salon fam trip: “It’s like what you’d find in France 35 years ago: beautiful countryside, lovely food linked to the terroir, and warm hospitality. I’d recommend it for clients driving from Bordeaux to Burgundy, a perfect stop halfway in between for those looking for countryside immersion.” As the Auvergne is the birthplace of Michelin, hence the Michelin guide, it today boasts 14 Michelin-starred restaurants.