France campaigns for U.S. tourists

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NEW YORK -- Looking to mend fences with potential U.S. visitors, French tourism officials launched a recovery campaign targeting consumers, media and industry types on both sides of the Atlantic.

The stateside portion, titled "Let's Fall in Love Again," is an effort by the French Government Tourist Office (FGTO) to pour on the charm and convince Americans that they remain welcome in France.

Patrick Goyet, director of the FGTO in New York, said that although Americans make up only 4% or so of the 75 million tourists who normally visit France each year, they account for $6 billion in tourism revenue -- no small chunk of change.

That tourism till could be a bit emptier this year, given the bad blood that followed diplomatic scuffling between Paris and Washington -- and anti-American street protests by millions of French citizens -- before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

But Goyet remains convinced transatlantic tensions are no more than a lovers' spat -- hence the romantic campaign slogan -- that will blow over.

"I'm totally convinced that French people love American people," he said. "People realize there may be misunderstandings or disagreements between governments, but travel is something different.

"With this campaign, we want to stress that traveling is about people," he added, noting that the FGTO has found that up to 70% of Americans who already have booked French vacations this year intend to take their trips by fall.

In fact, just over one-third of the 3 million or so Americans who visit France annually travel from July to September -- so the FGTO has timed its campaign to correspond with both seasonal preferences and changing booking patterns.

"Americans are booking later and later," said Goyet, "so the moment is right to do something to convince those Americans to choose France for their summer holidays."

An online survey of visitors to the FGTO site at www.franceguide.com found that just over half of respondents were anxious about French anti-Americanism. Still, 62% of those who canceled trips to France this year would reconsider if the price was right, according to the survey.

To that end, the recovery effort pairs a 13-city media tour by the FGTO -- and partners Air France, Rail Europe and the Paris tourism board -- with other offers.

On the consumer side, the tourism board Web site now lists scores of discount offers -- many exclusively for U.S. citizens -- available through Dec. 15 from hotels, restaurants and attractions across France.

Meanwhile, the new Club France loyalty program -- priced at $19.99 per family of five until July 14, and $25 thereafter -- entitles enrolled members to discounts of 10% to 30% from a network of 1,500 participating French companies and cultural institutions.

And visitors to the FGTO site can enroll until July 14 in a contest to win an air-inclusive chateau stay for two.

The FGTO also has a host of offers in its online travel agent newsletter.

Back in France, officials retooled their 3-year-old Bonjour trade-training program so it more strongly sensitizes participating French tourism workers to the concerns of U.S. vacationers.

In the end, French officials hope to achieve stable visitor numbers. "There were 1 million Americans in France last summer," said Goyet.

"We want to achieve that same figure again."

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