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Sunday,  May 19, 2024 10:54 AM 

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

Ahead of Summer Olympics, France urges trade to “think differently,” consider new itineraries
From left: Valerie Joannon, Normandy Tourist Board; Marine Esch, Occitanie Tourism; Bertrand Pous, French Counsul General; Melanie Paul-Hus, director for Canada, Atout France; Karen Acs, sr. manager, regional sales, Air Canada; Lisa McLean, marketing manager, Le Boat. (Pax Global Media)
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 Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The 2024 Summer Olympics – otherwise known as Paris 2024 – is expected to be one of the biggest events in Paris' history.

Happening July 26 to Aug. 11, 2024, the upcoming games – the first of the post-COVID era – will stage 329 medal events in 32 different sports across 18 different days of competition.

Organizers, all-star athletes and sports fans are preparing for competitions in Paris, as well as regional cities like Lille and Marseille.

Athletes will even face off as far away as Tahiti in the South Pacific in surfing competitions.

But amid the preparations, one particular focus, from a tourism standpoint, has been on Paris and the influx of visitors that will soon descend on the City of Light.

The city's tourism office, in July, revealed that up to 15.9 million people could visit the Paris region during the July-September period, which includes the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

Mon dieu. Paris is already rammed with tourists during the summer months. With the world’s largest sporting celebration coming to town, space will be tight.

“Think differently”

This was the starting point at a media event hosted by Atout France on Wednesday night (Nov. 8) in downtown Toronto. 

The French tourism development agency is aware (and excited) about the Summer Olympics and how the games will bolster France’s reputation as a world-class destination.

But at the same time, it’s also looking at how the Olympics, and the big crowds it will bring, could potentially deter people from visiting France next year. 

Melanie Paul-Hus, director for Canada at Atout France, had a message for the media and the travel industry at large: “France is big.”

“There's going to be a lot going on in Paris,” Paul-Hus said Wednesday night, “but there's also plenty going on elsewhere in France. So, think differently, hack the system, and find ways to bring the diversity of France to your communities.”

Melanie Paul-Hus, director for Canada at Atout France. (Pax Global Media)

The art of “thinking differently” was reflected in the unique venue Atout France chose last night – a second-floor loft space at Sweat and Tonic, a downtown fitness club.

As journalists sipped on wine and chowed down on hors d'oeuvres while regional partners of Atout France shared updates, throngs of sweaty bodies – including a few topless men with ripped abs – piled out of aerobics studios in the background.

Ooh la la indeed.

80 million in 2023

But back to France, where large-scale events are driving visitation numbers and business.

Beyond the Olympics, France recently hosted the Rugby World Cup, which boosted fall arrival numbers, and there’s things to look forward to, including the 80th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, next June, and the arrival of the Tour de France in Nice – Côte d'Azur, in July.

On hand last night was Bertrand Pous, French Counsul General in Toronto, who shared how France is still “the world's number one destination,” with an estimated 80 million international visitors expected for 2023.

Tourism revenues are “on the rise,” while the average length of stay for Canadians in France is still greater than other markets, Pous said.

Canadians were “out in force” during summer as they visited France, and even the fall months saw double-digit growth, he said.  

“Make It Iconic”

France, meanwhile, is trying to become a leading sustainable destination by 2030 and, in turn, is redirecting investments towards greener infrastructure and transport.

“Cycle tourism is strongly supported and identified as one of the forms of tourism of the future,” said Pous, noting slow travel, agritourism, ecotourism, and art tourism as well.  

Paris, France will host the 2024 Summer Olympics. (Michael Pihach)

Museums in France are also being renovated with technological innovations designed to make visits more pleasant and personal, Pous added.

Factor in France’s nature, mountains, gastronomy, architecture, art and history, and you have the ingredients for one iconic vacation.

“Make It Iconic,” in fact, is the tagline of a new campaign the French government launched this week.

Showcasing the French spirit, “Make it Iconic. Choose France” – the complete title – encourages investors and talent from all over the world to come and create something in France.

Air Canada increasing capacity

Tying this altogether last night – and in the spirit of helping travellers think differently about France – were some of Atout France’s partners, which included Air Canada, Air Canada Vacations, Occitanie Tourism, the Normandy Tourist Board, and Le Boat.

Air Canada’s Karen Acs, a senior manager of regional sales, noted how Canada’s flag carrier will have 29 per cent more capacity to France this winter.

The takeaway, she said, is that most of Air Canada’s flights to France, and the French West Indies, are offered year-round, and if not daily, most days of the week.

Karen Acs, a senior manager of regional sales at Air Canada. (Pax Global Media)

“This is key as travellers have the flexibility to travel outside of peak times – and perhaps even during the week,” Acs said, calling this a “travel hack” as it can result in less crowded plans and airports, and “likely more attractive fares.”

Acs highlighted Toulouse, the capital of France’s southern Occitanie region, known as La Ville Rose (The Pink City) due to the terra-cotta bricks that are used in many buildings there.

“Toulouse offers as much charm and possibilities in the winter, as it does in the summer,” Acs said.

Air Canada offers direct flight from Montreal to Toulouse, five times a week, all year around.

Toulouse, France. (Unsplash/Arthur Chauvineau)

Air Canada’s other direct flights to France, from Montreal, include Paris (double daily, all year), Lyon (restarted Oct. 12, operating four times a week, all year); Nice (season, starting summer 2024, five times a week); Fort-de-France (Martinique, five time a week, all year); and Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe, five times a week, all year).

From Toronto, Air Canada flies direct to Paris, daily, year-round. And, as PAX recently reported, a new non-stop route from to Fort-de-France, Martinique, will launch Dec. 16, operating on Saturdays, until the end of March 2024.

Acs is urging travellers to use Air Canada’s “fabulous” app to manage flights, gate locations and upgrade requests.

“There's no better way to stay informed,” Acs said, revealing that the app will soon add a bag-tracking feature.

All eyes on Occitanie

Marine Esch, on behalf of Occitanie Tourism, highlighted assets in the southernmost region in France, known for its towns and villages, UNESCO heritage sites, vineyards and mountainous landscapes.

Occitania is full points of interest, including Pic du Midi de Bigorre, a mountain some 2,877 metres up that has a sky-high observatory and exclusive accommodations.

Mainstream media has been zeroing in on Occitania – the city of Nîmes, once an outpost of the Roman Empire, known today for its monuments, was named by the New York Times as a top destination to visit in 2023.

Nîmes, France. (saiko3p/Shutterstock)

Esch noted the new Occitanie Rail Tour, which includes 19 train routes, allowing travellers to explore all of Occitania in an eco-conscious way, for just ten Euros a day.

“Along the way, you can hop off and move at your own pace,” Esch explained.

The Olympic flame, notably, will pass through Occitania, stopping in various communities, from May 13 to 19 next year.

Impressionism in Normandy

Then there’s Normandy, in northern France, with its dramatic coastline, which includes white-chalk cliffs and WWII beachheads, such as Omaha Beach, the site of D-Day, where the 80th anniversary of the event will be marked on June 6, 2024, with a ceremony.   

Valerie Joannon, a marketing executive at the Normandy Tourist Board, also highlighted the 150th anniversary of impressionism, an art style pioneered by Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Edgard Degas, and others (Normandy is considered the birthplace of this dreamy, artistic style).

The Normandy Impressionist Festival will return in 2024, from March 22 to September 22, with exhibits, concerts, lectures and other events.

Normandy is also pushing sustainable and responsible travel.

Its popular Abbey, the Mont-Saint-Michel, has implemented measures to combat overtourism, such as incentives like cheaper or even free parking at night, along with evening shows, to attract crowds later in the day.

Mont-Saint-Michel. (SCStock/Shutterstock)

There’s also a push for visitors to use public transport and bikes, instead of cars, when visiting the region.

“Public transport is, of course, better for the environment,” Joannon said, “and Europe, France, and Normandy is very good at it.”

There’s incentives to go green. For example: The Juno Beach Centre, Canada's Second World War museum, will offer “low-carbon rates” to visitors who arrive by train, bus or bike.

See France by boat

Or you could just see France by boat.

Le Boat, which specializes in canal and waterway rentals, has a fleet of more than 950 self-drive cruisers stationed at more than 33 different departure bases across eight countries — France included, where nine regions are offered.

Passengers can choose from short getaways, or a seven to ten-night vacation on the water – and no boating experience is required (the cruisers reach a maximum speed of 10 kilometres per hour).

Le Boat offers nine regions through France. (Le Boat)

“More than 50 per cent of our customers travel to France,” noted Lisa McLean, marketing manager at Le Boat. “You sleep and live on board, so it's very much like an RV experience.”

“In France, it's really convenient, because along the canals, you'll see lots of people living on their house boats, people just soaking up the French culture. You literally can park anywhere along the canal.”

Le Boat offers bikes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to round out the adventure, and clients can save big during the company's “Let's Go Boating in 2024" Black Friday promo, on this month. Click here for details. 

Activate hack mode

These are just a few ways to “think differently” about France as 2024 ramps up.

“We want advisors to turn on their hack mode and find new ways to sell France,” Paul-Hus told PAX. “They always do. But now they need to also get their creative minds working.”

“There's tons of destinations in France that can host clients. We want travel agents to think differently about how they can satisfy their clients, impress them, and surprise them with new products and offerings.”

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