Friday, March 19, 2004

France wooing tourists back

Airlines, French offer travel deals

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

French tourism officials, smarting from an off year caused by many factors including anti-French sentiment over the Iraq war, are trying to lure Americans back to their country.

A group of tourism officials, who stopped in Cincinnati this week during a 15-city media tour, said that the differences are between governments and not people - and that most French citizens are ready to welcome American tourists.

"We are trying to inspire Americans to get France back into their travel plans," said Robin Masse, director of communications for Maison de la France, the French government's tourism agency. "And we are doing that by getting people back into the exchange."

The effort, which also includes a tie-in with June's 60th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion in Normandy, comes after several factors have driven down travel abroad in general and to France specifically.

Many travelers have stayed away from such trips because of continued travel fears caused by terrorism and SARS, a slowdown in the global economy, and the general weakness of the dollar.

France continued to be the world's top tourism destination last year with 75 million visitors. The country is the second-most popular European destination for Americans with 2.63 million visitors; England is the top choice. But officials acknowledged that those figures were lower than in previous years.

Lately, many airlines have cut prices for transatlantic flights to record lows to help spur demand. Delta Air Lines even got into the act Thursday by announcing a $399 round trip sale for a new daily flight from Cincinnati to Amsterdam, which starts May 1. Air France also is pushing its daily flight between Cincinnati and Paris, which will go from five to seven days a week on March 28 (Delta also operates a daily flight to Paris from here). Other offers include free rail passes for veterans of the invasion and other discounts for families of such veterans.

In addition, many hotels outside major cities in France are offering deals as low as $65 a night. And French citizens are offering to keep U.S. veterans of the invasion in their homes free of charge in Normandy.

Anne Cappel, a Cincinnati-based sales representative for Air France and vice president of the Cincinnati chapter of the French-American Chamber of Commerce, said that the anti-French sentiment has subsided.

"Last spring, I was getting calls from clients to cancel flights and sales were down because of what happened," said Cappel, who also serves as honorary consul for France in this area. "But there is none of that now. It was very short lived. It was a difference of politics and not people, and now that the emotions have subsided, I think we will see a rebound."


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