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Monday,  May 27, 2024 12:39 AM 

On Location: Olympics, Impressionism, D-Day & Notre-Dame – the latest updates from France


On Location: Olympics, Impressionism, D-Day & Notre-Dame – the latest updates from France
From left: Christophe Decloux, CEO, Choose Paris Region & Michael Dodds, CEO, Normandy Tourism; Eiffel Tower (top, right); Les Braves sculpture on Omaha beach (bottom, right). (Pax Global Media/Ivo Antonie de Rooij)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Buckle up, mes amis. 

This year, France will be the ultimate playground for sports enthusiasts, art lovers, history buffs, culture vultures – and everyone else in between – as the land of wine and cheese plays host to several mega events that will welcome the world. 

At the forefront of France’s calendar is the 2024 Summer Olympics, the world’s largest sporting event, which will see 15 days of Olympic competitions and 10 days of Paralympic games.

The historic event – which first took place in Athens, Greece in 1896, and was last hosted in France 100 years ago – will unfold from July 26 to Sept. 8, 2024, in venues not only in Paris, but in 16 French cities, including one overseas region (Tahiti).

Fencing near the Eiffel Tower as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

As previously reported, preparations are underway in metropolitan Paris, where Olympic organizers are taking sports out of stadiums and placing them in public spaces, where iconic monuments will serve as a backdrop.

READ MORE: On Location - Rendez-Vous en France in Toulouse; Patricia McFarlane of Exotik Journeys honoured

And, for the first time in history, the Olympics’ opening ceremony on July 26 won't take place in a stadium, but outdoors, along six kilometres of the Seine River, through the heart of the city.

(The opening ceremony for the Paralympic Games is on Aug. 28 from the bottom of the Champs-Elysées to Place de la Concorde)

But that’s just the tip of the croissant. Beyond the Olympics, France is gearing up for other celebrations of major historical and cultural significance.

READ MORE: “Be bold”: Agents explore new itineraries, ideas at Destination France in T.O.

This June will mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, and already, France is recognizing 150 Years of Impressionism, an artistic movement that formed in the nineteenth century that propelled painters such as Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and others.

On top of this, there’s also the much-anticipated reopening of Notre-Dame cathedral this December.  

The 15th century landmark on the eastern half of Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine River within Paris, has been closed since 2019 after a fire tore through the building’s roof, causing significant structural damage.

Notre-Dame de Paris, which suffered a fire in 2019, is set to reopen this December. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

The cathedral’s reopening later this year will be a moving moment for France, and the world, and officials are already anticipating throngs of visitors eager to see the restoration work that’s been done.  

If you thought France was busy in pre-pandemic times, just wait until 2024 runs its course.

READ MORE: Ahead of Summer Olympics, France urges trade to “think differently,” consider new itineraries

According to France’s tourism marketing agency Atout France, the country, known for its medieval cities, alpine villages and Mediterranean beaches, is expecting some 100 million international visitors this year alone.

Which will result in fat spending, too – if last year’s tally is a sign of what’s to come. In 2023, foreign visitors in France spent 63.5 billion euros, exceeding 2019’s levels by 12 per cent, according to Atout France. 

Caroline Leboucher, CEO of Atout France, speaks to media at the Toulouse Exhibition and Convention Centre. (Pax Global Media)

“It will be an exciting year…and a lot of work,” said Caroline Leboucher, CEO of Atout France, speaking to journalists at a press conference last Tuesday (March 26) in Toulouse, where this year’s Rendez-Vous en France, a global B2B event, was held.           

“It will be an opportunity for France to maintain its position as a leading touristic destination.”

Olympic/Paralympic fever

Rendez-Vous en France, which PAX covered exclusively this year for Canada’s trade news English market, provides on-the-ground access to the crème de la crème of French tourism.

Canadian travel pros on the scene in Toulouse at Rendez-Vous en France. (Pax Global Media)

The 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, for one, will be an event of epic proportions, as Atout France and partners outlined for media last week.

Paris 2024, as the Games are known, has more than 13 million tickets for sale, will involve roughly 45,000 volunteers, and will welcome some 15,500 athletes from 206 countries who’ll compete in 54 sporting events (inclusive of the Paralympic Games).

Breaking (breakdancing) will make its Olympic debut this year, joined by three other recently-added sports: surfing, skateboarding, and sport climbing.

The vision is to hold sport competitions in venues where you wouldn't normally expect them.

In Paris, the base of the Eiffel Tower is where beach volleyball and paralympic football events will face off. Grand Palais, an historic building constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, will host taekwondo, para-taekwondo, fencing and wheelchair fencing competitions. At Place de la Concorde, there’ll be 3x3 basketball, BMX freestyle and skateboarding events, in addition to public celebrations.

A venue concept for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. (paris2024.org)

Even Palace of Versailles will be a sports venue, hosting horse riding, para-horse riding and modern pentathlon events.

Of course, traditional stadiums, such as Stade de France, Roland Garros, Yves-du-Manoir, and other large venues, will also be used for competition.

The city’s neighbourhoods, meanwhile, will “transform into Olympic villages, providing an unprecedented opportunity to explore the culinary, cultural and artistic diversity of the Paris region,” said Christophe Decloux, CEO of Choose Paris Region, a business growth and destination agency.

Outside of Paris, the games will extend from Bordeaux to Saint Etienne, Lyon to Marseille, Nice to Nantes and Lille to Châteauroux, and go as far as French Polynesia, where the waves of Teahupo'o will host the surfing category.

The Olympics will also make way for innovation. Paris’ public transport system, known as RATP, will use artificial intelligence during the Games to help international visitors navigate their way through the capital.

Christophe Decloux, CEO of Choose Paris Region. (Pax Global Media)

More than 3,000 transport agents will be equipped with handheld devices that can translate between French and 16 different languages. 

Security, however, has been a main focus in recent months. France plans to deploy about 45,000 French police and security forces, 20,000 private security personnel and around 15,000 military each day to protect the millions of sports fans and tourists attending the Games, reports say. 

Decloux said about 20 sites in the Paris region – both touristic and Olympic-related – will be secured during the Olympics with enhanced crime-fighting measures.

As reports have indicated, military personal will use surveillance tech to spot threats from the air and, if necessary, deploy SWAT teams should, god forbid, the City of Lights suffer a terrorist attack during the Games.

The opening ceremony will also present unique challenges – it’s set to be a 10,500-athlete, 90-boat flotilla down the Seine.

The opening ceremony for Paris 2024 will take place on the Seine River. (paris2024.org/Rendering)

Already, the capacity for this ceremony has been downsized to some 300,000 spectators – half of what was originally planned – over security concerns.

It won’t be a free-for-all either, as initially pitched. Instead, the ceremony will be by invitation-only – and those invited will need to undergo security checks and will receive QR codes to pass security barriers.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine and the Middle East, combined with threats of terrorist attacks, forced the French government to raise its security alert to its highest level late last month.

Paris, France. (Michael Pihach)

“It will probably stay at that level until the Olympics,” Leboucher told PAX. “The French authorities are making sure security is at the highest level possible.”

As a result, travellers arriving in France, over the next few months, may see more soldiers positioned at airports, Leboucher said.

As for getting around Paris during the Olympics, the advice to visitors is to use public transportation. Decloux said “point-to-point bus shuttles” – some 400 vehicles – will be deployed at all Olympic and Paralympic sites.

High demand

Paris’ tourism office expects some 15.9 million people to visit the city region from July to September when the Olympics take place.

Mélanie Paul-Hus, director of Atout France's Canadian office, said it’s too soon to know France’s exact Canadian arrival numbers for 2024, but she told PAX that Canada is among the top six international markets looking online to book travel for the Olympic period.

Mélanie Paul-Hus, director of Atout France's Canadian office, at Musée Aeroscopia. (Pax Global Media)

In terms of air capacity, the Canadian market is back to pre-pandemic levels, she said, while year-over-year air bookings are up 35 per cent.

New stats from Virtuoso Canada also suggest that affluent travellers are eager to visit – the consortium says its France bookings for 2024 are 452 per cent higher than the same time last year.

150 years of Impressionism

Not a sports fan? Consider taking a deep dive into Monet’s Water Lilies instead.  

This spring, France celebrates the 150th Anniversary of the first-ever Impressionist exhibition, and to mark the occasion, Musée d'Orsay in Paris is lending famous works to some thirty museums across France and organizing 200 special exhibits. (Click here for details). 

Outside of Paris, there’s the Normandy Impressionist Festival, which is on now until Sept. 22. Normandy was, for many Impressionist painters, a birthplace and home, and the region in northern France will tell this story through 150 special exhibits and events.

There will be “contemporary twists,” said Michael Dodds, CEO of Normandy Tourism, such as theatre director Robert Wilson lighting up the facade of Rouen Cathedral from May 24 to the end of September. (Click here to see the entire program). 

Travel back in time, using VR, to the first Impressionist exhibit at Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism. (Musée d'Orsay)

Back in Paris, at Musée d'Orsay, the "Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism" exhibition, which showcases famous paintings that appeared at the very first Impressionist show, has already opened.

The exhibit, which runs until Aug. 11, includes a virtual reality experience where guests, wearing a headset, can go back in time, to 1874, and visit that inaugural Impressionism exhibition!

80th anniversary of D-Day & Battle of Normandy

June 6, meanwhile, will mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings along the Normandy coast during World War II.

“There will be a lot of emotion in Normandy. There already is,” Dodds said. “The whole region is getting ready to welcome veterans from Britain, America, Canada and across the world. Veterans are now 99 or 100 or 101 years old. It’s absolutely extraordinary to meet these people.”

From left: Christophe Decloux, CEO, Choose Paris Region; Michael Dodds, CEO, Normandy Tourism. (Pax Global Media)

To mark the occasion, an international ceremony will be held on Omaha Beach (by invitation only) on June 6, with heads of state, veterans and officials set to attend. 

Dodds offered up some advice for tourists: “Don’t all come on the sixth of June,” he said, noting that many of the local roads will be blocked off.

Instead, visit Normandy either before or after that date, he said. There will be months of programming, from parachuting and parades to concerts and historical re-enactments to fireworks and other exhibits. Click here for details.

Notre-Dame re-opening

Once the dust of the Olympics settles, Paris will then gear up to reboot one of its top attractions, Notre-Dame cathedral, which is set to reopen its doors on Dec. 7, starting with a prayer vigil, followed by several days (eight total) of religious events and ceremonies.

In the evening of April 15, 2019, a fire broke out under the eaves of Notre-Dame’s roof, engulfing the building’s spire and damaging the building’s upper walls. Since then, the site has been walled off to visitors as crews have worked to restore the cathedral to its splendor.

Restoration work at Notre-Dame cathedral, seen here in 2022. (Shutterstock/JeanLucIchard)

“In five years, with remarkable tenacity and efficiency, Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral has been beautifully restored inside,” said Olivier Josse, general secretary of Notre-Dame. “Trust me, I have had the opportunity to visit. The walls are incredibly white, the décor is incredible.”

Notre-Dame’s exterior, however, still requires work that will take another five years to complete, said Josse.

During that Dec. 7 reopening weekend, “it won’t be easy” for tourists to enter Notre-Dame, Josse stressed.

The restart will be gradual. From December 10, the site will only be open in the afternoon. The cathedral will then return to normal operating hours (7:45 a.m. to 7:45 p.m.) on Dec. 16.

Olivier Josse, general secretary of Notre-Dame. (Pax Global Media)

For the first few months, Notre-Dame will focus on individual visits only, Josse said, noting that pilgrimages and groups will be able to gain access starting in June 2025. 

Advanced reservations will be required through a compulsory reservation platform, which will go live within a week of the Dec. 7 reopening date, Josse told PAX.

It’s an event that will undoubtedly generate tons of interest from tourists and locals alike. Exactly how many people are they expecting? 

“Before, it was 10-11 million people entering the cathedral [annually]. Now, we are expecting about 15 million,” Josse told PAX. “Which means about 40,000 [visitors] each day, which is not easy.”

Rendez-Vous welcomes Canada

This year’s Rendez-Vous en France, now in its 17th year, welcomed 840 international buyers from 62 countries and 645 exhibitors from March 26-27 at the Toulouse Exhibition and Convention Centre, and in other venues around “The Pink City,” like Cité de l'Espace (the Space Centre) and Musée Aeroscopia.  

Discovery FAMs – 53 total – were also held in regions all over France, giving operators a chance to “test new itineraries” in the country, Paul-Hus said.

From left: Samantha Lor, Duvine Cycling + Adventure CO, Karine Leroux-Glaude, ATPI Travel & Events Canada; Leah Velikonja, Boutique Escapes; Maria Panos, Land of the Gods/Omega Travel Service Ltd., Mélanie Paul-Hus, director, Atout France Canada. (Pax Global Media)

From left: Patricia McFarlane, junior product specialist, Exotik Journeys; Mélanie Paul-Hus, director, Atout France Canada. (Pax Global Media)

It’s a timely exercise as Atout France urges travel advisors to send their clients to regions beyond the popular hubs, to charming cities, like Toulouse, and to villages in the greater Occitanie region in southwest France.

This year, 28 travel professionals from Canada attended Rendez-Vous – including Patricia McFarlane of Exotik Journeys, who was among ten individuals honoured for completing “French Connaisseur,” Atout France’s online training program for travel professionals.


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