Travel advisors raised a glass of (Bordeaux) wine to honour France, and travel’s comeback, Wednesday night (May 18) in Toronto at Destination France, Atout France’s annual roadshow, which is taking place in select Canadian cities this week.
The long-running event for travel pros, which, this year, included stops in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver (which unfolds tonight), brought together more than two dozen exhibitors, from France-based tourism boards and attractions to airlines to resorts.
“Our suppliers were very eager to start again,” Mélanie Paul-Hus, director of Atout France Canada, told PAX at last night’s Toronto event, which took place in the Frontenac Ballroom of the Westin Harbour Castle hotel. “It’s one of the first North American roadshows they’re doing.”
The Great Journey
If there was ever a good time to meet one-on-one with European suppliers, it’s now.
As far as French tourism is concerned, the months ahead are looking “very good” Paul-Hus said.
So much so that it might be difficult to secure hotel rooms if one waits until the last minute to book, she said.
“We’re ringing the bell saying, ‘Don’t wait too long,’ [and advising agents] to tell their clients that they need to decide soon,” Paul-Hus said.
Currently, travellers from green countries (like Canada) are exempt from following additional rules, such as testing and isolation, when entering France, despite their vaccination status.
Following a virtual event in 2021, Destination France’s return to in-person networking comes at a critical time as vaccinated Canadians, faced with eased travel restrictions at Canada’s border, develop an appetite to see the world again.
Destination France, this year, is the using the theme "The Great Journey" to celebrate travel’s comeback.
Within France, that includes delicious wine, fabulous food and experiences across diverse landscapes, from the bright lights of Paris to the coastlines of Normandy to the vineyards of Bordeaux to the breezy Mediterranean corners of the French Riviera.
Of course, France’s tourism scene also extends to the Caribbean, with destinations like Guadeloupe and Martinique, which also held court last night.
While it’s hard to predict exactly when people will travel these days, consumer intentions to visit France are extremely high, Paul-Hus explained.
France, she said, is a country that is “reassuring” because travellers know they’ll have a great vacation there – especially if they’ve visited before.
“France renews itself very fast,” Paul-Hus added, noting the range of new hotels and upgrades to attractions that took place during the COVID-19 shutdown.
In terms of Canadian arrivals, the numbers are climbing: France is at 50 per cent of 2019’s capacity and last-minute bookings are driving the growth, Paul-Hus said.
That last-minute approach, again, is a legit concern as hotel inventory, faced with pent-up demand, runs low and the price of air seats continue to rise.
Still, the outlook is positive, as France, being one of the first tourism economies to reopen in Europe during COVID, has been ready to welcome back tourists for quite some time now.
Locally, systems have evolved – the ever-popular Chateau de Versailles, for example, has introduced an advanced ticketing tool that strives to ensure visitors can enter the palace in 30 minutes or less (pre-pandemic, the line to get in would sometimes last upwards of an hour, or more).
There’s also exciting events to look forward to – especially in the sporting universe.
There’s the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, for one, taking place in July and August that year, as well as the Rugby World Cup, happening in September and October in 2023, and the French Alpine Skiing Championships.
The "Bordeaux Fête le Vin,” June 23-26, is back, too, and to get agents inspired, the “Wines of Bordeaux” sponsored last night’s cocktail bash after the Destination France trade show, featuring live music and prizes.
Cruising through Bordeaux
Bordeaux, in fact, is where travel advisors Barbara Scrocco and Robert Rizzo of TravelOnly will be taking 70 guests this July for a river cruise on board Uniworld’s SS Bon Voyage.
The dynamic duo last visited Bordeaux in 2018, “and it was just wonderful,” Barbara told PAX at last night’s event.
“We always said we’d go back,” she said.
Coming out of the pandemic, the duo decided to offer an “intimate, luxurious vessel,” concentrating on one country, and their week-long itinerary will include wine tasting and some light cycling.
“The Bordeaux region is beautiful, people call it the ‘mini Paris’ in terms of shopping and nightlife, and the wine region is super spectacular,” Robert said.
In addition to Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the region in which Bordeaux is the capital of, other partners spotted at Destination France last night included "A modern journey through an old land"; Club Med; InDeauville/Dieppe Normandy Tourism; Marseille, Aix…En Provence; Montpellier Méditerranée Tourism Board; Nîmes Tourism Board; Toulouse Tourist Office/Carcassonne World Heritage; La Martinique; The Islands of Guadeloupe/Des Hôtels et des Îles; Normandy Tourism/ Honfleur, Estuary Land; Nouvelle-Aquitaine; Occitanie Destination; Château de Versailles; Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann; Hennessy Cognac; Get to France; and Lafayette FIT & VIP France and Monaco.
Carriers in attendance included AVIS Car-Away Motorhome Rentals, Corsair (which resumes Montreal-Paris on June 4 to Orly), Air Transat (now flying to Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Paris and Toulouse) and Air Canada, which was last night’s headlining sponsor.
Air Canada’s routes to France include:
- Montreal—Paris: year-round, increased to two daily flights.
- Toronto— Paris: daily service
- Montreal—Lyon: up to five flights per week and back to four weekly after Oct. 10. A year-round service.
- Montreal—Nice: up to three weekly flights ( resumed May 15, running until Oct. 27).
“Most airlines have restored all of their [France] flights,” said Paul-Hus. “Some carriers decided to open more in the U.S., than in Canada, but we know it’s going to get better by 2023.”
“We’re missing a few connections, but we’re pretty satisfied with what we have now.”
Air France, too, has a vast Canada-Paris schedule, which will include up to 49 flights a week this summer, including a daily flight between Vancouver and Paris.
Air France’s overall departures from Canada, notably, will be up 27 per cent compared to summer 2019.
Spotlight on sustainability
Atout France is also shining the spotlight on sustainable tourism, highlighting itineraries, like cycling routes, that have less impact on the environment.
One of its latest initiatives is an updated hotel ranking, a list launched April 1, that accounts for sustainability practices in French hospitality.
“The idea is to recognize efforts, but to also value them by making them a requirement,” Paul-Hus said, noting that hotels in the database will be re-evaluated every five years.