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
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
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
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 [email protected].