Report from French Affairs in Chicago

Travel Agent recently attended the 6th annual French Affairs in Chicago, October 24-27, at the Westin Lombard. Jean-Philippe Pérol, director of Americas for Maison de la France, the official promotion company for France, addressed the conference of approximately 200 suppliers and dozens of various professionals in the travel trade with an overview of the state of American tourism in France.

Pérol said that French tourism, where Americans are concerned, is down 5-10 percent in 2008. The plan is to increase tourist revenue to 5 billion euros by 2010.  Additional plans are to give marketing priorities for e-medias and to use events and Franceguide, the official tourist publication for France, as marketing tools.

We also sat down with Pérol privately, who told us what his goals were for tourism in his country. His main objective at the conference was to “discuss with American partners our marketing plan and strategy and balance our course of action.” Pérol wants to know, “Do we have to change something? Are we headed in the right direction?”

Despite the bad exchange rate for Americans in Europe and the economic downturn in the U.S., Pérol is optimistic for the growth of American tourism in France. Four factors contribute to this optimism:

1. The American political situation will be clear after the presidential election. Regardless of who is elected, the American political landscape will make sense, at least in terms of how France needs to move forward with their marketing strategy.
2. The expected improvement (for Americans) in the exchange rate. The exchange rate is expected to drop to 1.3 euros for every dollar (down from 1.5), according to Pérol. This will make France a more affordable market for Americans.
3. The French image is better among Americans.
4. France has gotten together as a team to promote the country. There is, as Pérol puts it, a “marketing spirit” among French suppliers, travel professionals and businesses.

Pérol also points out that France is lucky to have the back-up support of Air France. When other countries, such as Italy and Germany, were looked at, none had the support of their major airlines the way France does. Alitalia and Luftansa do not show the same marketing support for their respective countries that Air France shows its host country.

At the general session, we learned some interesting statistics about the American tourist market in France. The traveler ratio has been broken down as follows:

10% are from California
7% are from Florida
5% are from Illinois
5% are from Texas
4% are from Pennsylvania

63% of visitors are “repeaters”

France is the second-biggest market in Europe, next to the U.K. Still, Pérol says that France is not an easy product to sell. Travel agents should promote France as a cultural experience, he says, not just as “a place to go,” and as an “investment in yourself.” When asked what he thought of the role of travel agents in the promotion of France, Pérol said that travelers will have more of an interest in turning to travel agents for booking trips because there is a sense of parental guidance there. Calling your travel agent when there is a problem is like “calling Mom and Dad” for help. Travel to France is all about “the pleasure of living,” he says. “Every time you go, you get a bigger pleasure.”

On a lighter note, awards were given out to tour operators during the gala dinner of French Affairs. Here are the categories and winners:

Best Website:
Bella Terra Travel
Best Brochure: Abercrombie & Kent
Special Interest Offer: The International Kitchen
Most Extensive Offer: Enchanted France
Most Active Partner: Euroquest
Best Overseas Offer: Tahiti Legends

And, last but not least…

Best Tour Operator of the Year: Air France Holidays

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