French Affairs: Still Among Top Five
By Jeffrey Steele
Speaking at this year’s French Affairs 2008 on Oct. 26 and 27, New York City-based Maison de la France (MDLF) director Americas Jean-Phillippe Perol, admitted this is a difficult economic environment for international travel. Environmentalism, high airfares and preferences for “stay-cations” all are limiting Americans’ willingness to travel to France. But France is hardly alone in feeling the pinch.
The year 2008 was not a good year globally for travel by Americans, and Japan, China, Italy and the United Kingdom all experienced declines, he said. While projections for overall tourism to France in all of 2008 have remained stable at 80 million visitors and about $56 billion in revenue, the expectations are for a decline of eight percent in the number of French-bound Americans.
“For next year, we are projecting a two percent increase and a very good 2010,” Perol said. “We are still behind a declining UK, but much ahead of Italy.”
Air France representatives reported while the airline withstood the downturn better than competitors, even increasing market share during this difficult period, its 2008 bookings declined about nine percent as of September. November and December advance bookings were down eight and six percent respectively, but represented an improvement from earlier projections.
Still, reason for optimism exists. Hopeful signs include the surge by 40 to 80 million in Americans holding passports since the advent of tighter security following the September 11th attacks, the decline in oil prices to under $70 a barrel at the time of the conference, and new American confidence expected in the wake of presidential elections, Perol said. An improved image of France among U.S. travelers reflected in a recent study showing France one of their top five favorite destinations, as well as exciting new 2009 Picasso and Cezanne exhibits, all bode well, he said.
In addition, because of the long-standing partnership it enjoys with Delta Airlines, Air France should benefit from the alliance of Delta and Northwest Airlines. New direct flights to France include Salt Lake City to Paris (the first ever direct flight from Salt Lake to Europe) and New York’s JFK to Lyons.
“We have plans to introduce new cities in the United States to Charles De Gaulle, which will make travel to France more robust,” the Air France representative added.
As well, France announced a rebranding to more effectively evoke emotion, discovery and fun. The result – “France: Rendez-vous en France” – was chosen because of the universally understood term “rendezvous,” with its connotation of romance. An added bonus is that the brand can be used to promote travel to various French regions by altering the tagline to reflect those destinations (“Rendez-vous en Alsace,” or “Rendezvous en Toulouse,” for example) or by event (“Rendez-vous au Festival de Cannes).
Goals to Improve U.S. Tourism
Objectives of Maison de la France include increasing tourist revenues to 5 billion Euros by 2010, and developing a year-round tourism strategy taking into account the strong demand from consumers for fall (45 percent) and spring (28 percent) travels. Half of all MDLF promotions are now targeted at the low season.
In addition, France will strive to promote tourism to all regions, building upon the unique richness of French cultural identities by enhancing regional campaigns and actions focused on the Rhone Alps, Loire Valley, Provence, Languedoc, Normandy, Aquitaine, Brittany and overseas destinations like Tahiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Top Destinations 2009
Sessions at French Affairs 2008 focused on key destinations and events expected to outperform in 2009. Normandy, the top destination in France after Paris, will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Aix en Provence will unveil the “Picasso Cezanne” exhibit at the Musee Granet.
Cruising in France continues to grow, with the popularity of small and medium-sized ships presenting an opportunity for French ports with reduced host capacities. The concept of French city breaks was also promoted, along with 10 ideas for itineraries in France, among them Bordeaux-Toulouse, Avignon-Aix-Marseilles-Nice, Reims-Dijon and Lille-Amiens, all easily accessible from Paris via TGV and airlines.
Candid Tête à Tête
Late in the conference, Perol granted an exclusive interview with Jax Fax and discussed both the conference and his hopes for 2009. Noting the uncertainty of the current economic climate, Perol asserted, “We don’t have to be desperate. That’s not the case. We must not underestimate the importance of the improving exchange rate and oil prices.” It could be up to 17 percent cheaper for Americans to travel to France in 2009, a savings of up to $600 over an eight-day excursion, he said.
“Of course 2009 will be a difficult year,” Perol concluded. “But it will be a year in which Maison de la France, tour operators and travel agents will come together. It will be a year to remember that difficult times are those when you strengthen the links of your family.”
Contact the French Government Tourist Office, 212-838-7800; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.franceguide.com