In the Hot Seat: Leon Bertrand May 24, 2004 Share 1 -- French minister delegate for tourism Leon Bertrand spoke with senior editor Kenneth Kiesnoski about the state of U.S. travel to France in light of political tensions between the countries.Q: Are normal tourism relations possible given poor political relations between the U.S. and France?A: I've always maintained the U.S. and France are like an old married couple: They love each other, although they don't always agree. [But] we can find means of cooperating on tourism, even if on the level of foreign politics there may be tensions. That's why the [upcoming] 60th anniversary [of D-Day] is extremely important to us: It's a chance for both sides to remember that despite differences, we made sacrifices together 60 years ago.Q: Do you think D-Day commemorations will help heal hurt feelings and, perhaps, revive U.S. traffic?A: Yes, because it reminds us that Franco-American relations are not only commercial but sentimental, as well. D-Day is a commemoration of our common ideals, such as patriotism. Since we started to [plan for D-Day] over a year ago, we've already [sensed] a comeback. As far as tourism goes, the first [three months] of 2004 was far more positive than in 2003. We're sure we're headed in the right direction.Q: You've relaunched quality training for tourism workers. Can Americans -- some of whom consider "French hospitality" an oxymoron -- truly expect a warm welcome?A: Actually, many Americans who come to France worried they may encounter [unfriendliness] experience an entirely different behavior ... and it changes their perceptions. That said, it's true hospitality is a problem area. A recent study [of] tourists visiting from 12 countries found there's still a lot of progress to be made. [That's why] we're launching a second Bienvenue en France campaign. I guarantee once Americans visit France they will have such a wonderful time they'll become our ambassadors.Q: Some Jewish-American groups remain alarmed over recent anti-Semitic incidents in France. How are you addressing these concerns?A: It's true that there's a problem that cannot be denied, but it's also true that the French government is being very firm. The prime minister has created a committee against racism and anti-Semitism that proposes ways to fight these negative trends, [and] the justice ministry increased penalties for those who commit anti-Semitic acts. I met with the Grand Rabbi of France, and we decided to establish what we'll call the Route of Jewish Memories. Jewish-Americans [can] meet with members of France's Jewish communities to visit places of worship and commemoration.Q: Air France is your partner. Does its merger with Dutch carrier KLM alter its French character -- or affect your mission -- in any way?A: The merger naturally gives a stronger global dimension to Air France.To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.