Paris has long been the number one gateway for France, but other regions are now increasing in popularity, as Mario Hajiloizis discovers.
Welcoming a record-breaking 84.7 million tourists in 2013 (the most recent statistics currently available), France is still way ahead of the second most visited country in the world – the US – beating it by almost a staggering 15 million visitors.
These statistics came after a study was published by the French National Research Agency, and were referred to the UNWTO to be compared with other popular tourist destinations, confirming France’s all-round appeal among global travellers.
Informing TTG on the reasons behind the country’s huge pull as a tourist destination, and among MENA travellers, director – Middle East and Turkey, Atout France, Karim Mekachera stated: “Our diversity within the country is a key factor. Paris is naturally the gateway and the most popular city but visitors can easily explore the entire country and see what other regions can offer during their holiday.”
Through France’s TGV high-speed rail network – with peak speeds reaching 320 km/h – the record-setting service saves travellers precious time: Paris-Marseille can be reached in three hours, Paris-Lille and Paris-Bordeaux in one hour, and Paris-Strasbourg in two hours.
Facilitating the travel of almost 85 million tourists into the country is no mean feat, but with the world’s top airlines, all providing direct access into the country, it’s a task which is naturally accomplished.
Flagship carrier Air France-KLM has been transporting travellers to Paris (and beyond) for decades, even as early as 1939 when the airline flew to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for the first time.
“Over this period, Air France-KLM has expanded extensively throughout MENA and has built a strong and loyal following. We are committed to continuing to invest in new destinations, products and services for our customers,” outlined senior vice president – Middle East, Gulf and India, Air France-KLM, Welmer Blom to TTG.
Predictably, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport is the most popular gateway for airlines to operate their flights, but it is by no means the only one that welcomes tourists from the Middle East.
“Marseille is a multicultural city that is particularly popular with people from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia,” territorial marketing manager, Aéroport Marseille Provence, Romain Wino told TTG.
Aéroport Marseille Provence operates 27 daily flights from across the MENA region.
“We’re soon expecting to break the two million mark,” added Wino, who also stated that the airport is presently searching for more airlines to increase its network from the region: “We are negotiating with several airlines, mainly from the Gulf, that have expressed strong interest in serving flights to and from Marseille.”
Similarly, Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is welcoming flights this summer season from nine destinations across five MENA countries (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, the UAE and Lebanon).
“In addition to Paris and Nice, Emirates Airline also operates flights to Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport five times per week which are performing very well, and we hope this will become a daily service,” outlined Mekachera.
“Paris will naturally always be the number one destination, however, opening new routes is critical to further develop our tourism profile.”
Last year Atout France hosted 150 to 200 travel operators from MENA on familiarisation trips covering not only Paris, but places such as Bordeaux and Toulouse.
EXPLORING NEW GROUND
While visitors to France traditionally flock to the well-known capital, a new trend has begun to emerge, with travellers setting out to explore regions outside of Paris, either as standalone breaks or in combination with the capital.
Chief sales and marketing officer – Europe, Warwick International Hotels, Jean-Marie Pébrel told TTG: “MENA travellers are increasingly using the Internet to book their holidays and are now exploring new destinations other than Paris. They’re now going to Nice – where we have our affiliate member hotel the Splendid Hotel & Spa – and Lyon – where we are present with the Warwick Reine Astrid. That’s the reason why we are committed to offering specific offers such as multiple city packages.”
Formerly the summer mansion of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenia, Hôtel du Palais overlooks Biarritz’s main coastal strip. Having been permanently restored and having launched its new suites, the ‘Palacestatus’ property is also frequented by MENA guests.
“These clients arrive to experience an unexplored region, while enjoying our stunning property,” director, Hôtel du Palais, Jeanne Marchetti told TTG.
Fittingly, Mandarin Oriental, Paris has been finding that visitors often combine their trip with the French Riviera, usually Cannes, during the summer, and in the winter months with ski destinations in the French Alps such as Courchevel.
“Our MENA guests travel with their large families and we easily accommodate 10 to 12 rooms for them,” director of sales and marketing, Mandarin Oriental, Paris, Julia Bary remarked to TTG.
Paris – France’s heartbeat and hub – will undoubtedly remain the country’s top attraction. However, other major cities and regions are now rising to the fore, with France’s tourism bodies capitalising on this welcome trend.