France’s Nouvelle-Aquitaine targets global leading role in sustainable tourism

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Exclusive Interview – Michel Durrieu, General Director, Regional Tourism Board, Nouvelle-Aquitaine

Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the most popular internal destination for French tourists and is constantly growing on the list for foreign visitors. We asked Michel Durrieu, the region’s Director General of Tourism Board how the region has been evolving in this sense.

The most important points of evolution include the fact that Nouvelle-Aquitaine now receives over 28 million tourists, including 24.5 million French tourists. The proportion of French tourists has slightly progressed, while the number of foreign visitors is showing very strong growth. Certain destinations in Nouvelle-Aquitaine have seen between 20% and 25% growth in foreign visitors over the past year.

WE ARE SEEING A VERY STRONG PROGRESSION IN THE NUMBER OF US VISITORS, UP 23% LAST YEAR.

Which are the most important source markets?

We have seen very strong growth in visitor numbers from Spain, but also a very strong growth in what are considered very mature markets – the UK and Germany. There is a double impact from this – the return of a certain clientele who come back to “rediscover” places they’d previously visited, because the offer has evolved. But they are also discovering internal destinations they didn’t know before. That’s the internal tourism. We are seeing the arrival of an increasing number of German visitors in the Dordogne Valley, in Lascaux for example, where the German market has taken the number one position, whereas it used to be in third or fourth position. So, there are some strong trends. In the past, people would come to Nouvelle-Aquitaine for a long break, and not move around too much. Today, we have noted a strong trend for tourists to travel more and more around Nouvelle-Aquitaine, and globally they are capable of taking road trips of one or two hours from where they are based, and when you look at the region, a lot can be done in the space of a couple of hours. For example, Bordeaux is just an hour and a half from Cognac, which is two hours from La Rochelle – Île de Ré, which is next to Lascaux, next to Biarritz. The foreign tourists are beginning to come to grips with the fact that all these major destinations are very close to one another.

What about source markets from further a field?

We are seeing a very strong progression in the number of US visitors, up 23% last year. We realise that an increase in capacity in ights from the USA to France has played a role. To this, one can add the fact that it is much easier for American visitors to come here from Paris using the TGV. The Americans love visiting Bordeaux, Cognac, Rochefort – with the replica of the Hermione – Lafayette’s frigate, which took part in the independence celebrations in the USA. The growth in US visitors is in fact accelerating. Then there’s the Canadians, whose rise in tourist numbers is linked to the new direct ights and increase in flight frequencies between Montreal and Bordeaux. We are also seeing a major return in Japanese visitors. There had been a drop in numbers in the past years, but numbers are now higher than they were at their previous peak. The Chinese market is evolving as well. They used to come solely to Bordeaux, but now they are also coming to visit the Dordogne, and to the Arcachon basin. Previously, Chinese visitors would almost always travel in groups. Now there are more and more individual travellers. This is particularly the case when visiting and staying in the Bordeaux vineyards.

Bordeaux airport is seeing a lot of new activity. This must be an important factor in your region’s success…

Indeed, but one must not forget we have a total of eight international airports in Nouvelle- Aquitaine. The air connectivity of the region, coupled with the TGV connection from Paris and other European capitals allows rapid connections to the region. There’s a huge number of ights from all around Europe, and low-cost airlines are reinforcing their position in the region – and of course at Bordeaux airport – which has been experiencing strong growth over the past few years, with Easyjet and Ryanair bolstering their bases in Bordeaux. So, yes, Bordeaux airport is an important lever for the entire territory. This is very important, as we even see destinations that are outside Nouvelle Aquitaine promoting their activities around Bordeaux Airport. This translates to the fact that the airport not only serves Bordeaux, but a much broader region. This is creating a change in the tourism paradigm, as visitors from overseas can spend visit Bordeaux, then go and spend a night in Cognac, discovering its ancient cellars… It’s something foreign tourists never would have imaged in the past for a weekend.

NOUVELLE- AQUITAINE SHOULD BECOME A “REFERENCE” DESTINATION FOR SUSTAINABLE TOURISM ON A GLOBAL SCALE

The magic annual number of 30-million tourists is not far off for you. What’s the plan when it comes to developing tourism?

We believe we should achieve the 30-million tourists mark by 2020. But what is more important is the development of tourism throughout the year, rather than seasonal tourism, and the development of sustainable tourism, respectful of the environment, and respectful of the local populations, with gastronomy that is local. This also means more short tours, either on foot, cycling, by boat… all this evolution is important. I prefer to speak less about overall numbers and more about tourism revenues. Our objective with Régine Marchand (ed: the President of Nouvelle-Aquitaine tourism board), is to have tourists coming to our destinations throughout the year, that they spend money and that this creates jobs.

A year or so ago, you projected that tourism revenues would reach €16bn by 2020. Are you on target?

We already reached that goal last year! Now we are targeting €17bn or €18bn for 2020. Globally, our strategy is towards higher quality tourism – people who are respectful of the environment, seeking authentic experiences and heritage. It’s a strategy that at the same time suits the local residents, and that is economically much more interesting.

What are you highlighting this year at ITB Berlin?

There are several things. Firstly, our main thrust at ITB Berlin is to spotlight six of our “brands”, ensuring the professionals and in uencers – the media and bloggers – understand the proximity of these destinations. I am of course talking about the Pyrenees, Biarritz – Pays- Basque, the French Atlantic Coast, Bordeaux, the Dordogne Valley and Cognac. It’s vital that people comprehend that these six “brands” are geographically close to each other. After this, it’s the richness of the territory, not only in terms of destinations, as we can add Poitiers, or Futuroscope, France’s second biggest theme park, not to mention La Rochelle, l’Île de Ré or the Green Venice of Niort Marais Poitevin, or Limoges. You’re adding something quite important to the travellers’ imaginations. It’s a case of demonstrating to the tourism professionals at this show the richness of this region, which is the size of Austria. That’s an important point as well. Nouvelle- Aquitaine is the size of Austria, with the population of Denmark, meaning a tourist can spend an entire holiday. The second point this year, following on from last year’s highlight – gastronomy and wine tourism – for which the region is of course renowned – with 35% of France’s wine tourism taking place in Nouvelle-Aquitaine… This year, we are placing sport under the spotlight. This includes cycling, as we have more than 4,500 km of cycle trails – which is huge. We are also talking about golf. Nouvelle- Aquitaine has 81 golf courses, including the oldest course on the content in Pau. We have more golf courses than any other region in France, many of which are truly emblematic, and it’s a sport that can be practiced all year. Of course, we are talking about surf, as we have some of the world’s top sur ng spots, and the 2024 Olympic sur ng events will be taking place here. We are also talking about Rugby – for the sport – but also the spirit of festivity and conviviality that surrounds the sport, which is very present in Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

What is your message to the world’s travel professionals present at ITB Berlin?

The first thing is that Nouvelle- Aquitaine is the number one internal destination for French tourists, but it should become, very rapidly, the number one French destination for foreign tourists in France when it comes to sustainable tourism. As Sandrine Derville – the Vice-President for tourism of the Regional authority – uses to say “Nouvelle-Aquitaine should become a ‘reference’ destination for sustainable tourisme on a global scale – a destination that is authentic, protected, and open to tourism”.


Photo: Michel Durrieu General Director, Regional Tourism Board, Nouvelle-Aquitaine