A bucket-list destination worldwide, France is capable of weathering any storm, as Panayiotis Markides discovers.
Known for its romantic allure, France boasts anything and everything from iconic landmarks to a remarkable culture and culinary scene. France is for good reason the world’s most popular destination in terms of international tourist arrivals, despite dark clouds that have been looming over of late.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC’s) Travel & Tourism, Economic Impact 2016 – France report, the destination is expected to welcome 88 million international visitors in 2016, a rise of 2.3 per cent. This is a prediction made in spite of events in Paris in November 2015, and following the recent tragedy in Nice, it is an aim the destination will want to meet and no doubt exceed.
However, history dictates that France has resilience, which will no doubt bolster the industry’s confidence. Data compiled by travel tech company Sojern stated that following the Paris shootings, arrivals to the destination witnessed an immediate drop of as much as 43 per cent by November 20 – or a week later. However, by December 12 – one month after the attack – French travellers’ interest in Paris recovered to almost previous levels. At the same time, Sojern’s data revealed it noticed strong travel intent from the UK, the US, Spain, Germany and Italy, amounting to a rise of 67 per cent in travel intent week-on week, demonstrating the destination’s resilience in the tourism sector, a precedent that bears a silver lining for the country in the wake of recent attacks.
More to the point, the destination recently successfully hosted the EUFA Euro 2016 football competition. In fact, according to Sojern, France benefited from increased travel interest for the event, with Q2 travel intent having risen 418 per cent from Albania; 387 per cent from Wales; 227 per cent from Northern Ireland – all Euro Cup debutants; as well as an 85 and 28 per cent increase from Portugal and Germany respectively.
Referring to the recent incident in Nice, president and CEO, WTTC, David Scowsill said: “France is the natural home of international tourism – the most visited destination in the world. With this attack on its day of national celebration of the principles of liberty, equality and brotherhood – the same principles championed by travel and tourism – our sector stands in unity with the people of Niceand France.”
Also weighing in on the severe incident was secretary-general, UN World Tourism Organisation, Taleb Rifai, who said: “Nice is, and will continue to be, one of the leading tourism destinations in France and in the world. In the face of these forces of darkness, we must more than ever remain united to fight this global threat.”
TTG spoke with stakeholders across France prior to the Nice tragedy about all France has to offer visitors.
RESILIENT TOURISM PRODUCT
Speaking to TTG about the capital of the French Riviera was market manager – leisure and MICE Development, Nice Convention & Visitors Bureau (Nice CVB), Nadja Graf: “Our main focus lies on MICE tourism, and we have a very active convention bureau that does a lot to promote our MICE offering on a B2B basis to companies, agencies and organisations, and helps them actively identify the best solutions, venues and service providers for their events in Nice.”
Shining a light on the MICE sector, Graf stated that the destination’s key markets are France, the UK, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Belgium, as well as the US and China. “In 2015, we welcomed the director of the company Tiens and 6,500 of its employees from continental China to Nice as an incentive trip,” she enthused.
She added that the city also puts a strong emphasis on leisure tourism, especially on short breaks and positioning Nice as the perfect city break and weekend getaway.
“Our aim is to attract visitors to Nice all-year-round, as it is a destination that has as much to offer in winter as in the summer. With approximately 300 days of sun per year, a very mild climate and beautiful sunlight, also in winter, the city and its region are perfect for a weekend stay in the off season.”
Leisure markets for the city include the domestic market, although Graf noted that foreign visitors make up 50 per cent of tourists. These include the UK, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, European proximity countries, as well as China, Russia, the US and Japan. Graf admitted that for the Russian market, numbers have dropped in the last two years, however, the market remains important due to the historical connection: “The family of the Tsar used to reside in Nice and there is an important Russian community in the city.”
Regarding the US and Japan, Graf revealed that despite the countries’ historical importance to Nice, the city expects to see a drop in visitor numbers from the US due to recent events in the French capital. However, Graf noted that to strengthen the city’s leisure offering, Nice CVB offers travellers the French Riviera pass, giving visitors access to all museums and major attractions in Nice and its surroundings, and was recently updated to include a guided tour of the Allianz Riviera Stadium, boat rides along the shores of Nice and a full-day bus excursion to San Remo, St. Tropez, Grasse or Monaco.
Honing in on the leisure side of the luxury segment, the French Alps boasts Les 3 Vallées, reportedly the largest ski region in the world. Les 3 Vallées is made up of eight ski resorts: Courchevel; La Tania; Méribel; Brides des Bains, Les Menuires; St. Martin de Belleville; Val Thorens; and Orelle.
Speaking exclusively to TTG, press officer, Revolution R, on behalf of Les 3 Vallées, Laura Pages explained that the ski destination focuses on attracting ski enthusiasts, luxury travel and families. “Les 3 Vallées is the largest ski area in the world. It is the best place in the world if you like to ski,” Pages commented. She further noted: “Composed of eight ski resorts, Les 3 Vallées proposes an offer for each typeof client.”
Further enhancing the resort town of Courchevel’s luxury and ski credentials is the five-star Barrière Les Neiges property opening this winter. Showcasing its capacity to welcome even the most upmarket visitors, the hotel, located at the floor of the Bellecôte ski slope, will offer 42 luxury rooms and suites across seven floors, and a 1000 m2 Spa Diane Barrière – reportedly the largest in Courchevel.
Pages informed TTG that the area’s traditional markets come from France, Benelux and the UK with the US and Japan representing emerging markets for the destination. “For the emerging markets, Les 3 Vallées has an agreement with [the Japanese ski resort] Shiga Kogen and [the US ski resort] Vail Resort: when you buy a weekly Les 3 Vallées ski pass, it offers you three days of ski in these resorts.”
France’s tourism attributes have travellers coming back again and again to the destination, despite recent setbacks which have undoubtedly shaken the country.