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Monday,  May 20, 2024 8:31 AM 

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

On Location: Rendez-Vous en France in Toulouse; Patricia McFarlane of Exotik Journeys honoured
Patricia McFarlane, a junior product specialist at Exotik Journeys (left) and Mélanie Paul-Hus, director, Atout France Canada, at Musée Aeroscopia. Rendez-Vous en France takes place this week. (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.

Rendez-Vous en France, the French tourism industry’s premier event for international B2B trade, kicked off Monday night (March 25) in the north-western edge of Toulouse with a cocktail party and vegetarian dinner under the wings of legendary aircraft linked to the region's history. 

Toulouse, the capital of France’s southern Occitanie region, is known for many things – notably, the blush bricks that are used in many of its buildings (the city’s nickname is “La Ville Rose,” translated, “The Pink City”).

But the scenic southwest destination – France’s fourth-largest city – is also recognized for its activities in the sky (and beyond). Airbus is headquartered in Toulouse, and the city is a leader in space projects, from satellite production to running its own spaceflight discovery centre, Cité de l'Espace.

It’s no wonder Toulouse is also known as Europe’s Space Capital. 

Rendez-Vous en France kicked off with a cocktail and dinner at Musée Aeroscopia. (Pax Global Media)

So, it was fitting that Rendez-Vous 2024 opened in a venue that flexed Toulouse’s aeronautic muscles: Musée Aeroscopia, a sprawling hangar that houses more than 25 aircraft, from Caravelle to Concorde to the Airbus 300B – some of which visitors can step inside and tour.  

The jet and helicopter-filled museum shares the history and development of the airline industry. For a travel industry event, it's the perfect party space. 

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

Welcoming some 900 guests – a mix of international tour operators, travel advisors and media – in Musée Aeroscopia’s showroom, Rendez-Vous, which is hosted by Atout France, the country’s tourism development agency, kickstarted its program with a simple message: explore France.

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

With an emphasis on highlighting France’s diversity, “Rendez-Vous has put regions and cities on the map – especially for long-haul markets, such as Canada,” said Mélanie Paul-Hus, director of Atout France's Canadian office, who was spotted at last night’s plane-peppered party, which was co-sponsored by the tourism boards for Toulouse, Haute-Garonne and Occitanie.

Rendez-Vous en France

PAX is in Toulouse this week covering Rendez-Vous, now in its 17th year. From now until March 27, 840 international buyers from 62 countries and 645 exhibitors will engage in tête-à-têtes to discuss France’s destinations, hotels, services, tours and attractions in a marketplace format – just as the spring season begins.

Some 26,000 appointments are on the books – and some 400 buyers travelled with Air France to get to the popular gathering, which was held in Paris last year and in Nantes the year before.

From left: Dani Hill, Vulcan Vacations; Elie Abitbol, Gateways International; Patrica Fargeon, Planet France. (Pax Global Media)

Rendez-Vous is also bookended with discovery FAMs – 53 total – in regions all over France, where culture, heritage, traditions, wine, cheese, cuisine, seas and mountains, and accents, change with every border line

The event gives operators a chance to “test new itineraries” in the country, as Paul-Hus put it.  

“It allows for time in destinations,” she said. “People can really work with local partners to create future products. Rendez-Vous is a lab, as well as a big PR event for us.”

From left: Serge H. Malaison, Voyages Centaure/Trans Atlantis Tours; Mélanie Paul-Hus, director of Atout France Canada. (Pax Global Media)

The strategy is to help operators develop FIT trips that could involve longer stays outside of peak season, Paul-Hus explained.

PAX participated in one thrilling FAM over the weekend, joining tour operators from Hong Kong, New Zealand, and South Africa on an outdoor journey in the Pyrenees, a sprawling section of flat-topped massifs and folded linear ranges in southwest France that straddle the border of France and Spain.

From crawling through ancient limestone caves in Barousse to pastoral hikes in mountainous villages, to stays in historic towns, like Saint-Lizier, to consuming copious amounts of local wine and cheese, the postcard-perfect Pyrenees unlocked the joys of untapped France. (Stay tuned for our on-location report).

PAX's Michael Pihach visits the commune of Balaguères in the Occitanie region of southwestern France where the Pyrenees lie. (Pax Global Media)

Patricia McFarlane/TravelBrands honoured

This year, 28 travel professionals from Canada – not only from Quebec, but also from Ontario – are attending Rendez-Vous en France.

Last night, as guests wined and dined under the wings of a grand Concorde, and other jumbo jets – “aviation appetizers for the eyes,” as one colleague remarked – and as aerialists and French singers entertained, Canada took centre stage at a brief ceremony that recognized educational excellence.

The travel industry gathers at Musée Aeroscopia. (Pax Global Media)

Patricia McFarlane, a junior product specialist at Exotik Journeys (“Exotik Tours” in French), a TravelBrands company, was among ten individuals honoured for completing “French Connaisseur,” Atout France’s online training program for travel professionals.

French Connaisseur launched in December 2022, and since then, TravelBrands has been a big supporter of the program, promoting it as a learning tool within their organization, Paul-Hus said. 

“Patricia quickly signed up and completed all [15] modules. She’s super motivated,” Paul-Hus told PAX. “She’s proven to be very serious and committed.”

Patricia McFarlane, junior product specialist at Exotik Journeys (far right), was honoured for becoming a French Connaisseur. (Pax Global Media)

There are currently 70 travel professionals in Canada that have their French Connaisseur certification, while more than 300 people are actively registered.

Any travel agent can sign up to become a French Connaisseur, which will soon launch new “expert” modules, Paul-Hus said. Click here for more details about the program. 

Olympic fever

It’s a good time to rendezvous as France is set to be the most-visited country in the world by 2025, according to GlobalData. That’ll translate to a fat stack of euros. Last year, tourism in France generated 65 billion euros, representing eight per cent of the nation's GDP.

There’s also the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics, which will see 15 days of sport competitions and 10 days of Paralympic games in venues not only in Paris, but in 16 French cities, including one overseas region (Tahiti).

Paris’ tourism office expects that some 15.9 million people could visit the city’s region this July to September when the games (and other festivities) take place.

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

Paul-Hus said it’s too soon to announce France’s Canadian arrival numbers for 2024, but in terms of air capacity, the market is back to pre-pandemic levels.

As well, year-over-year air bookings are up 35 per cent, she said, and Canada is among the top six international markets booking travel for the Olympic period.

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

Views of Toulouse

With Olympic fever running high, Paris will undoubtedly be a busy place this summer. But it won’t be for everyone, so if there was time to explore other areas of France, it’s now.

Paul-Hus said some operators have been reluctant to sell Paris this summer with the Olympics – and all of the security and mobility logistics it will bring – happening in the background.

It’s all the more reason to consider equally charming alternatives, like pretty Toulouse, an ancient Roman city that was founded more than 2,000 years ago.

Toulouse is known as The Pink City. (Pax Global Media)

Here, locals go with the flow of the Garonne River and 17th century Canal du Midi (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and celebrate regional cuisine, like cassoulet, a rich stew made with white beans and various kinds, like sausage, duck and pork skin.

The Pink City can be enjoyed as a standalone, or serve as a starting point for exploring the greater Occitanie region (Air Transat, notably, offers direct flights to Toulouse from Montreal).

The Garonne River flows through Toulouse. (Pax Global Media)

Pink buildings and art in Toulouse. (Pax Global Media)

The “soul” of Toulouse, which has a thriving student population and arts and music scene, is its welcoming people, Paul-Hus told PAX.

“Toulouse has been on the path of so many travellers,” she said, noting the city’s close proximity to Spain. “People are used to travellers here. Everything comes from the heart. Their local secrets, they share them, without restraint.”

Stay tuned for more of PAX’s coverage from Rendez-Vous en France in Toulouse.

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