France: Getting Travelers Involved

For a segment of today's travelers, "being there" and "seeing it" is not enough. They seek a measure of hands-on direct interaction. Such trips could focus on learning experiences, like photography, cooking, painting and language study, or involve activities such as hiking, trekking and biking. Clients also could be part of a working expedition.

Painting in the land that produced such greats as Monet, Cezanne and Renoir is guaranteed to inspire would-be artists. Clients can take a course in technique through a U.S. or French school.

Some tour packages also feature classes in the other visual arts. For example, France's landscapes and attractions offer wonderful opportunities for photographers, but not all visitors are able to take advantage of them. France Photographique, (310) 378-2821, and Close-Up Expeditions, (800) 457-9553, both offer tours that include professional advisors.

While some view cooking as a practical necessity, others consider it to be an art form. For the latter, what could be a better use of their leisure time than perfecting their skills with some of Paris' master chefs?

Established in 1895, Le Cordon Bleu, 33-1-53-68-22 50, presents a wide range of cooking classes and demonstrations focusing on basic or regional cuisine, pastry and bread baking. The school boasts 32 master chefs, the majority from Michelin-starred restaurants.

Classes are also available at the Ritz-Escoffier School of French Gastronomy, held in the Ritz Hotel, 33-1-42-60-38-30.

In our age of global travel and a global economy, Americans' traditional indifference to mastering foreign languages is diminishing. Clients interested in increasing their proficiency in French could join language courses in Paris and a number of other cities.

For instance, Lingus Service Worldwide, (800) 394-5327, represents schools that offer immersion courses throughout France at all levels of proficiency. Lodging options range from family stays to five-star hotels.


Extra Ideas

For almost 40 years, Jacques Pillet, concierge at Paris' Hotel Meurice, has been sharing his favorite spots with guests.

To lovers of art and handicrafts, Pillet suggests Le Viaduc des Arts (9 to 129 Ave. Daumesnil). Here, 60 brick and stone vaults, situated below an abandoned railroad viaduct, house artisans' workshops and galleries. He also likes Galerie Vivienne, a 19th-century shopping arcade housing elegant boutiques.

For pleasant strolls amid flowers and greenery, Pillet recommends Jardin des Plantes, created in 1626 by Louis XIII's doctor as a royal medicinal plant garden, and the Bagatelle garden in the Bois de Boulogne, filled in summer with every imaginable species of rose.

As for dining, Pillet suggests the tea room and Sunday brunch at Musee Jacquemart Andre, a 19th-century mansion on Boulevard Haussmann; L'Os a Moelle on Rue Vasco de Gama, a typical Parisian bistro, and for fine dining, La Grande Cascade, set amid the trees of the Bois de Boulogne.


Specialty Tour Tips

Travel industry professionals offer the following tips on the most profitable way to book clients on specialty tours.

One recommendation is to approach operators with a preformed group, according to Michael Italiaander, president of Expo Garden Tours, a Redding, Conn. company focusing exclusively on garden and horticultural programs. Italiaander suggested contacting local chambers of commerce to discover garden clubs and horticultural groups in your area. Befriend these people and show your knowledge about programs meeting their special interest, he said.

After a successful first tour, agents can suggest similar trips to other destinations. According to Italiaander, France alone could account for several repeat sales, with each trip visiting a different region.

Karen Herbst, co-owner of the International Kitchen, was an agent for 12 years before becoming a tour operator. Key to increased profitability, she feels, is convincing the client that you are selling -- and the client is buying -- a week of magic.

Agents must know the product thoroughly so they can describe it with sincere enthusiasm. "Belief transcends a sales pitch," said Herbst. "Clients hear the truth in your voice and respond to it."

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