Atout France, the France Tourism Development Agency, is returning to Arabian Travel Market in April after a three-year absence as the organisation looks to promote Paris and the French regions to travel agents and tour operators in the Middle East.
Karim Mekachera, director Middle East & Turkey Regional Office, Atout France, said: "Our presence at Arabian Travel Market is the start of our campaign this year to show international markets that Paris continues to adapt as a world-leading destination city and to highlight the appeal of our regions that makes France an unique collection of destination.
"Inbound tourism into France has suffered in light of the events in Paris and Nice, but there were some positive signs over Christmas showing a strong bounce back in the number of tourists for the last quarter of 2016."
France received 900,000 tourists from the Middle East in 2015. Paris hotel arrivals have jumped from 300,000 in 2009 to 700,000 in 2015 – a 145 per cent increase - generating around €439 million ($464 million).
Its stand at ATM will be shared with its main partner Air France and others, including CRT Paris Ile-de-France and the city's official convention bureau OTCP. Representatives from France's regions will also have a presence on its stand.
Building relationships with travel agents and tour operators is vitally important in the Middle East, Mekachera explained. "While online bookings in the region are growing quickly, most families who come to France will book through a travel agent," he said.
The appeal of Paris to visitors from the Middle East is as varied as the city itself, although Mekachera was keen to highlight its range of five-star hotels and designer outlet shopping options.
"There are many brand new hotels from international brands which we haven't had the chance to promote," he said, "such as Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental and W Hotels, Raffles and many more...
"The refurbished Ritz Hotel is now available after its $450 million four-year refurbishment, including the only Chanel spa in the world. We are expecting a lot of interest in this property from agents and operators with an upmarket clientele."
Travellers from the regions are interested in both designer shops and designer outlets, he noted. Its world-famous art galleries and museums remain popular, as does its selection of theme parks.
Atout France replaced the former French tourism board Maison de la France in 2009 with a brief to become more than just a traditional tourist board. It has taken on a number of different tourism-related roles, from offering consultancy services to the public and private sector to overhauling the French hotel classification systems. These non-traditional functions have, Mekachera said, "given [Atout France] a wider perspective in the overall tourism market".
"ATM will see the launch in the region of our new global brand strategy that has identified more than 15 global destination brands as distinct brands. Our research showed that people around the world think of our regions as having distinct personalities, and we have branded the regions accordingly.
"It is a really effective way for us to reinforce the diversity of what we can offer, will give us a consistency at international exhibitions such as ATM, and gives travel agents and tour operators an idea of how they can then promote these regions to their clients."
Mekachera noted that Atout France was trying to balance the needs of both Paris and the regions.
"Our focus at ATM is the start of our campaign to encourage people back to Paris," he said, "but we need to ensure as well that agents and operators selling Paris know about the regions and can offer this to their clients. That could be the French Alps for ski, the French Riviera for beach, Strasbourg for the Christmas markets."
Overall, the return to ATM after a three-year absence is a pivotal moment in its plan to tell the world that Paris - and France in general - remains one of the world's leading destinations. "Our infrastructure is fantastic, but we need to remind the trade that our offer is broad and that by partnering with us they can find the offer that meets the specific needs of their clientele."
For more information on Arabian Travel Market 2017, please visit: http://arabiantravelmarket.wtm.com/. - TradeArabia News Service