Airlines & Airports
How France’s New Tourism Strategy is Targeting The US Market
France is seeing an uptick of tourism from the United States and has plans to attract even more travelers with new infrastructure, more attractions, regional programs and special events over the next two to three years.
That message was delivered at the annual French Affairs conference, held Oct. 18-19 in Atlanta, where tour operators met with French regional tourism officials to network and develop new programs targeting the U.S. market.
Anne-Laure Tuncer, the New York-based director-USA for Atout France, the country’s official tourism agency, told her audience of tour operators and regional French tourism officials that to date France has experienced at overall increase of 6 percent in U.S. arrivals for 2015, with regions like Alsace and Cognac seeing double-digit growth. She quoted Laurent Fabius, France’s minister of foreign affairs and international development, who said 2015 is looking like a record year for France.
Behind the Growth
Tuncer said the main reasons behind the tourism increase were a high favorability rating of France by Americans, according to a recent Gallup survey; more investment in tourism partners by the French government; and a very favorable exchange rate between the euro and the dollar, the best in years. In addition, France has seen more visitors from the U.S. booking river cruises, mirroring the tremendous growth in river cruising overall in Europe. Such cities as Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille have benefited in particular from such river cruises.
On the consumer front, Atout France and its partners have been actively promoting France in the U.S., including during the recent “Best of France” event in New York’s Times Square in October, which attracted an estimated 500,000 visitors. The group also has exhibited at such trade events as IMEX America in Las Vegas and Cruise Shipping in Miami.
“Our marketing campaigns have given us the opportunity to spread our joint messages to over 4,000 press and 20,000 trade contacts, as well as to two million consumers,” Tuncer said. France’s marketing campaign has targeted such generational groups as Gen Xers and Millennials, as well as cruise professionals, meeting planners and travel agents.
Indeed, France reports an overall increase of 6 percent in Airline Reporting Corp. airline ticket sales this year compared to 2014, showing that even more travel agents are booking the country for their clients. Atout France also has reengaged with large travel agency groups like Virtuoso to boost the profile of the country among high-end sellers of travel.
New Products, Events
The goal has been to tell consumers and travel agents about a wide range of improvements to France’s tourism product, including its wine roads, cycling itineraries, meeting facilities, urban offerings, as well as key events and festivals. The effort also has focused on getting news out about new cultural attractions, such as the reopening of the Picasso Museum in Paris and the openings of a facsimile of the prehistoric Pont d’Arc cave, the Confluence Museum in Lyon, and the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, which will be officially inaugurated by French President Francois Holland in January. Other new attractions being highlighted include the Cite des Civilisations du Vin, a huge permanent exhibition about great wine, which is set to open next June in Bordeaux.
France also is promoting a series of major events set to take place around the country, including the UEFA Euro soccer tournament in June and July 2016. The tournament is expected to attract a much larger base of U.S. soccer fans to such cities as Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille, Nice, Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Lens, Lille, Saint-Denis and Paris. Elsewhere, Montpelier, in southern France, will host the Gay Pride Festival in 2017, which is expected to attract more visitors as well.
Focus on Niche Travel
Atout France also has been focused on niche travel, with new campaigns to promote family travel to the country’s family-approved beaches, ski resorts and other sites. Every city has gardens, museums, zoos and activities geared specifically for kids. There are also zip line parks, prehistoric caves, family friendly resorts, and theme parks, including Disneyland Paris, Park Asterix and Futuroscope.
With more than 700 golf courses in the country, France also is targeting golfers. Indeed, it is showcasing the newly opened Saint-Emilion golf course designed by Tom Doak, named the most anticipated course opening in 2015 by Golf magazine. In 2018, France also will host the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Versailles.
France has always been a major ski destination, but now it has recaptured its position as the number one ski destination in the world, with over 54 million ski days by visitors. French ski resorts also are investing in state-of-the-art facilities to maintain their competitive edge.
New Tourism Measures
The country’s tourism rejuvenation is all part of a program begun a few years ago by the French government to put tourism front and center in the country’s economic priorities. Tourism now accounts for 7.5 percent of the country’s GDP.
In recognition of that, Fabius, the French minister overseeing tourism, recently announced 40 new measures to help France meet the challenges posed by the global expansion of tourism, new competition from other countries, a new visitor focus on diversification of tourism products, and a new focus on digital and technology trends.
Some of those new measures include: a simplification of taxation and legislative procedures that will help clarify the relationship between hoteliers and online reservation centers, which will allow hoteliers the freedom to set their own prices. Measures also include $1 billion investments in new infrastructure, including $500 million in low interest loans for hotel owners seeking to renovate existing properties or build new ones, $400 million in local infrastructure and services; and $100 million in loans to small businesses.
More specific infrastructure improvements include better connections between Charles de Gaulle airport and Paris and the renovation of the Gare du Nord rail hub, home to the Eurostar and Thalys trains.
According to Tuncer, France also has introduced new measures to better welcome and entertain visitors. For example, a new law will permit businesses, including major stores, to stay open on Sundays in international tourism zones. In Paris, these zones will include Boulevard Haussmann, home to Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps department stores; Rue de Rivoli, Montmartre and St. Germain.
On the rail front, SNCF and RATP, the major French rail companies in Paris, have begun multi-lingual announcements in the city’s rail stations and main Metro lines. Also in Paris, security and policing in major tourist zones has been reinforced, which has led to significant decreases in crime during the first seven months of 2015.
In addition, Tuncer said France has signed 20 new destination contracts to promote specific French regions by showcasing their most distinctive assets and attractions as a way to bring together public and private entities around a comprehensive strategy to develop tourism. Atout France also has received additional funding to promote the UEFA Euro 2016 in 2016. Finally, France has a new name for its tourism website, www.france.fr, instead of www.rendezvousenfrance.com.
It’s all part of a revived and coordinated effort to boost the number of foreign visitors to France to 100 million by 2020 (it currently stands at just north of 82 million) and enhance the image of the country worldwide). In the U.S., France is also working to expand its source markets beyond just the East and West Coasts. It will now focus as well on the Midwest and South. Indeed, Texas has now overtaken Florida in the number of U.S. travelers going to France, validating the decision to promote more in the U.S. southern states.
More by James Shillinglaw
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