Travel Extra’s Sunday Supplement: Foie Gras Frolics in France

Minister Sylvia Pinel opens Rendez Vous en France 2013 in Toulouse

Rendez Vous en France 2013 was staged in Toulouse this week, close to some of the major foie-gras producing regions of France, as the guests were reminded each delicious meal-time.

The event which was opened by tourism minister Sylvia Pinel (above) highlighted big ticket news such as Marseilles year as European Capital of Culture, the opening of the new Louvre in Lens, Corsica’s host of the start of the 100th Tour de France, Mont St Michel’s’ revamped visitor facilities. Away from the press conferences at the social events there were other stories, each village, town and region seemed to have one. There were  680 exhibitors here, with the biggest presence from Paris and the host region, Midi-Pyrenees.

The world’s most popular tourist destination, France (78m international visitors) is considerably ahead of Spain (57.9m) in the European charts with Italy trailing back on 47.8m. Atout France hosted 900 international tour operators from 64 countries with a heavy emphasis on developing markets such as India and China, as well as 55 leading travel writers.

Anges Angrand Christian Mantei

While visitor numbers from Ireland to France slipped back to below 600,000 last year. Agnes Angrand, London based director of the Irish market (pictured at the event with Atout France Director Christian Mantei), said she was working to encourage French regional and tourist bodies to help rebuild the Irish market, which peaked at 780,000 visits in 2008. She pointed out that innovative marketing can yield results out of Ireland. “If I look at Disney, their results are not doing badly at all. The best we can do is to push for more awareness in the Irish market. France has a huge variety and something for everyone. More and more people want more than one type of holiday. They want a whole range of experience and emotion and France can offer that.” Agnes and her team of Vanessa Renaud and Claire Bedouin looked after the Irish and UK delegation excellently.

The hosts organised 44 pre-event fam tours for 425 international tour operators from 59 countries. Participants included Derry Cremen of Hello France, whose Cork-based camping operation now attracts 15pc of its bookings from outside Ireland, and Maria Madigan of winetours.ie, a unit of Jim Vaughan’s Justsplit, who thoroughly enjoyed her cycling tour along the Canal du Midi, stopping for an occasional taste of Gaillac on the way (to celebrate, no doubt, her son Ian’s appearance at out-half for Ireland against Italy). The Cite de l’Espace was venue for an exceptional opening night dinner and musical performance. Local producers hosted the guests on the second night, and Trevor Brennan’s pub, De Danu, was also visited by the small Irish delegation. Travel Extra’s Eoghan Corry toured the Airbus factory and the extensive aircraft collection, posing with a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 along the way. There was even a MiG-21 in former DDR livery. The collection  is to be housed in a new museum, opening March 2014.2014.

Minister Pinel said she was working closely with immigration minister, Manuel Valls, to facilitate more short-stay visas for Chinese tourists. She told journalists at the press conference that the new government prioritized tourism to drive the economic recovery.” Difficulties in recruiting entry-level employees, a big concern at the Irish Hotels Federation conference in Killarney last month, was highlighted by the minister, as well as the stalled issue of the French hotel rating system and the revamped website, announced at last year’s Rendez Vous en France in Paris but still not up and running.

The event will be held in Clermont-Ferrand next year. Click for more pictures

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