Gallic Charm (France)
The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Sun, 11/23/2008 3:27 PM |
It turns out France really is the center of the tourism world: In 2007, it was the number one destination for international travelers with no less than 82 million visitors, and gay Paris was the world’s chosen capital city for tourism. Last August, the country’s tourism board Maison de la France – in cooperation with Air France/KLM – visited Jakarta to show how they attracted all those visitors and to emphasize that France is open to all. Maggie Tiojakin reports.
The media workshop is titled “Colours of France” and the invitation illustrates the concept – vertical lines jutting out from the bottom of the page, of various heights and colors – which is a clever way to illustrate diversity, and an even better way to represent the varying degrees of fun one may have when visiting France.
“Why do people go to France?” asks Frédéric Meyer, the director of Maison de la France in Asia, at the event’s opening. “The question is: why shouldn’t they?”
A report released by the World Tourism Organization early this year showed that of the 898 million global travelers recorded in 2007, almost one-tenth of them chose France as their primary destination, lifting the country’s ranking on the list of favorite tourism destinations from number three to number one, followed closely by Spain.
According to several exhibitors at the workshop, France is a place for “everybody” regardless of nationality. If the country was once known as a thoroughly European destination whose people refused to speak any language other than their mother tongue, today it is a different story.
Gerda Lascombes, the international sales manager at Printemps, one of the largest department stores in France, says her company requires its sales associates to speak at least three different languages. Whether one wishes to have a transaction in French, English, German, Spanish, Mandarin or Arabic, Printemps will be ready to serve.
“Our store is as big as a football field, and we have everything you need,” she says.
Caroline de Maisonneuve applies a different take in her sales strategy. The marketing and promotions manager for Galerie Lafayette in Asia begins by describing the wonderful city of Paris.
“Last year, we had 30 million visitors coming in from all over the world,” she says. “That’s three times the size of our population [in Paris]. Can you imagine the amount of activities involved? For a department store, I think we have done an incredible job attracting a large number of these visitors, because we’re not just selling products and services – we’re also selling the image of Paris itself. The city of love, of great food, of haute couture.”
But what of the others who prefer to walk along the Seine, rather than shop for shoes; explore the countryside rather than sit at the top of the Eiffel Tower; drink with the locals rather than eat at frou-frou fine restaurants?
“Hop on Eurostar and discover the beauty that everyone’s talking about,” says Emilie Parfondry, a Rail Europe marketing and communications executive. “The countryside of France is quite as breathtaking if not more than Paris. There’s no better way of enjoying your vacation in Europe than to explore it by train: It has the comfort of a first-class airline and the view of a great road trip.”
Franck Delahaye, promotions director for the Tourism Board in Lourdes, seconds Emilie’s opinion. Paris is an exceptional city, he says, and if anyone has the chance the go there, they should. But, once in France, they should not miss the sacred city of Lourdes.
Located in Southern France, at the foothills of the Pyrenees, Lourdes is a small town which has become a pilgrimage site since the Lady of Lourdes’ reported apparition in 1858. Christians flock there annually to visit the Statue of the Virgin Mary, and last year it reached a peak of 5 million visitors, most of whom were pilgrims.
“But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the city if you aren’t a Christian,” says Delahaye, smiling. “We have the second largest number of hotels in all of France, and we offer you various excursions along the Pyrenees. If you’re looking to get away from a metropolitan lifestyle, Lourdes is where you want to go. I promise you, we won’t let you down.”
With its rich history, fine food and wine and that incomparable Gallic charm, France has always been a popular tourist destination. But Meyer believes France has taken the honors as the top place to visit because it can “welcome the world with open arms and show them a good time”.
Raphael Liang, the public relations manager for Air France in Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, agrees.
“In the travel industry, there’s room for everybody to move around,” she says. “And Air France, together with KLM, makes it possible for you to go to any place in the world – conveniently.”
At the end of the workshop, before lunch is served, Meyer shows a short video clip that gloriously showcases France’s charms – the countryside, cities, even the interiors of a luxury hotel room – and stares longingly through the beams of light. For him, it’s a place he always looks forward to returning to: It’s home.
For the rest of us, we are welcome to come along and share its colorful charms.