Atout France employs strategy to entice region's travellers

Approximately one million visitors to French capital hail from the Middle East, according to Paris Tourism and Convention Bureau

Atout France MENA director Karim Mekachera.
Atout France MENA director Karim Mekachera.
Paris Tourism and Convention Bureau marketing director Patricia Barthelemy.
Paris Tourism and Convention Bureau marketing director Patricia Barthelemy.

Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency, is intent on winning tourists back to France, especially those from the Middle East, by employing a two-pronged strategy for its markets of responsibility in the region and Turkey, revealed agency director Karim Mekachera to Hotelier Middle East during an interview at the 2017 Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai.

Mekachera also mentioned that even with the rise of online travel bookings in the region, the agency is still investing in travel agent relationships on the premise that service quality is still paramount to travel customers in the Middle East.

“The objective for this year is to show the industry that France expects to see more tourists come back into the country, to see that we are fully committed to welcome tourists especially coming from the Middle East and the region. We have a wide offer of a collection of destinations, products and we do hope that this summer will be a very good one,” declared Mekachera.

He continued by revealing that France’s key source markets for visitors include KSA, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and all the GCC countries: UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, the latter of which he enthused in particular as “very well structured” in terms of travel trade.

“We have a huge region, with two types of markets; first, the Gulf countries – we consider these our major markets where people are now looking for new destinations. They’ve been coming to the destination for a long time so they want to go beyond Paris, beyond the French Riviera. They want new destinations, new ways to travel the country, new experiences and this is what we try to provide,” Mekachera explained.

For example, the French Alps, it all started with Emirates when they opened the direct flights from Dubai to Lyon. Then we promoted actively the French Alps in the region and we were very successful. Last summer saw a 30% increase in Middle East travellers to the French Alps. Traditionally, the French Alps is a best seller in the winter but this was in the summer, so we were very pleased.”

Mekachera elaborated further: “Second, we have the emerging markets: Egypt, Turkey, Iran. Here, we have different strategies according to the types of markets.  We reinforce the main gateways that are Paris and the French Riviera. They say, the further you are, the better you can see the Eiffel Tower. Those from long haul markets, people who are first timers to the destination, they want to see the Eiffel Tower. They want to see Paris and during summer, the French Riviera.”

Paris Tourism and Convention Bureau marketing director Patricia Barthelemy admitted that the French capital, which usually welcomes approximately 29 million visitors per year, saw a slight dip in visitor arrivals in 2016. More than ever, she said her office is working to support the growth of the estimated one million visitors hailing from all the GCC countries.

Supporting this objective, Barthelemy said, is a combined pursuit of both offline and online marketing strategies, such as strengthening relationships with major travel agents in the region and launching new digital platforms, such as a new English-language Paris app.

"We have a selection of five key travel agents in Riyadh, 10 in the UAE – we work closely with them to determine the travel trends of the customers in the region. We organise a lot of fam trips in order for them to experience Paris and its latest offerings,” she said.
 
These clients in the Middle East – now they want to have experiences, for example, to have a French cooking lesson, a perfume experience, a special helicopter experience – which is a new product we have, a city tour by helicopter.”

 

Barthelemy added that the rise of social media has resulted in additional resources for the team. “In our organisation, we have about 90 staff, a special department, dealing only with social media and the internet. We also have a new Paris app in English, which works very well with the guides.”

Mekachera summed up: “The main take-away – even if business is going up year-on-year is that the travel agents in the region  still have a very important role. For the end customers, to have the assurance of very good service by the travel agents, this is very much a feature in this region. Even if the young generation here are starting to book online. I think the ratio of online to offline bookings is something like 30/70 or 40/60 but one thing is sure – we are seeing more than 15% growth in the online business in this region and it’s still growing."

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