Felicity Long
Felicity Long

As the pandemic's chilling effect on travel drags on into the holiday season -- with virus resurgences causing renewed lockdowns in Europe -- it sometimes feels like these dark days will never end.

But eventually, with the help of a successful vaccine, robust mitigation strategies and the passage of time, they will end -- and we will once again be throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, strolling along La Rambla in Barcelona and marveling at the Eiffel Tower's nightly light show.

In the meantime, European tourist boards have become increasingly creative in finding ways to keep their destinations top of mind for visitors from the U.S., for that day when the borders open for us again.

A case in point is France 360, the first large-scale virtual trade event put on by Atout France, the French government's tourism development agency, which took place Oct. 19 to 22.

Yes, it would have been nice to attend the show in person, but France 360 made the best of a bad situation by bringing together 47 French suppliers and 245 tour operators and travel advisors from the Americas.

Of those, 135 tourism professionals "attended" from the U.S. and 58 from Canada, and there were 2,067 one-on-one virtual appointments held over three days. 

Recognizing that virtual appointments only go so far, France 360 also offered members of the trade a variety of conferences and training sessions offering insights and perspectives from travel industry leaders on how to adapt to these challenging times. 

On Day One, for example, panelists discussed "Who Innovates? Developments & Opportunities Arising from the Health Crisis" and "The State of the MICE Industry: How to Resume Business Travel to France," followed by sessions on the regions of Occitanie, Burgundy and the Loire Valley.

Of course, nothing whets the travel appetite like cool videos, and the Atout France digital team generated excitement with its  "Top Reasons to Visit France in 2021" YouTube video as well as the FranceTravelFest Facebook Live series highlighting the chateaux of the Loire Valley, the port of Marseille, the art scene in Nice, crafts workshops in Nimes and the wine region of Bordeaux. 

A key takeaway from the event, according to Anne-Laure Tuncer, director of the Americas for Atout France, is that the destination is using this enforced downtime to stay relevant in the new normal, whatever that turns out to be.

"During our event, we conveyed to the trade that even in this uncharted situation, our destination has kept on innovating, investing, developing new products more in line with today's travelers' needs and interests," she said at the close of France 360. 

Tuncer also stressed that the love affair between the U.S. and France -- although occasionally bumpy, as love affairs often are -- is showing no signs of cooling off anytime soon.

"We at Atout France and our 47 exhibitors are very encouraged by the U.S. and the Americas travel industry's continued interest in France," she said.

"The real success, will of course be the lifting of the mutual travel restrictions, so that we can once again warmly -- and safely -- welcome our North and South American friends."

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