France and Monaco play the luxury card in Southeast Asia

With 78.45 million international travelers in year 2008, France remains the world’s most visited destination, far ahead of the United States (58.03 million) and Spain (57.3 million). Although Europe represents the majority of tourists to France, the country has not neglected Asian travelers, especially visitors originating from Southeast Asian countries.

France’s new tourism structure “ATOUT France” has been in place since June 2009, merging various structures such as Maison de la France and ODIT (France Tourism Engineering Agency). Its interest for Asia remains high, despite the fact that the continent represents only 5 percent of all arrivals, the equivalent of almost four million tourists.

Among initiatives taken by ATOUT FRANCE is consumer marketing campaigns through France website, an ATOUT FRANCE workshop for travel trade and a large media coverage with over 30 journalists being invited every year.

Largest Asian inbound markets to France are Japanese and Chinese. “Asia remains a relatively small market but its growth has been constant over the years. In 2008, Asian arrivals to France continued to progress by 5 percent as we recorded a slight decline of 2.9 percent,” indicated Frederic Meyer, outgoing director Southeast Asia for ATOUT FRANCE.

The agency representation in Singapore looks for SE Asia and wants to further develop arrivals from a market that already totaled over 400,000 arrivals per year. Despite the small number, France is interested with Southeast Asians seen as high-spenders. “Our target is to increase Southeast Asian length of stay. We then have to sell France again as a mono-destination and not as part of a European packages. It then implicate that we make a greater effort to sell our country beyond Paris or the French Riviera,” said Meyer.

ATOUT FRANCE has defined Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia as priority markets, while Indonesia and the Philippines are considered secondary markets despite a huge population base. “Indonesia and the Philippines are strong expanding markets with rising purchasing power. However, they are still handicapped by a lack of direct air connections to Europe and France in particular,” says Meyer. However, France wants to capitalize on its very strong image in Asian populations. “We are very much associated with luxury and art of living with Paris being of course a major strong selling point,” added Meyer.

Luxury is working indeed very well. Monaco government Tourist Office and Convention Authority organized in early December a series of road shows in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to promote the tiny Principality. Monaco is perceived as a top destination for luxury tourism with its five-star hotels, with the presence of some of the world’s best chefs like Alain Ducasse or Joel Robuchon or with the organization of prestigious events such as Monaco Yacht Club or Top Marques, an exhibition show for luxury cars. Attractive tours for Asia would then combine Provence and/or the French Riviera with Monaco.

“Paris Office of Tourism has even launched a marketing offensive in Thailand with travel agencies as it is seen as one of the biggest potential markets in Asia. Despite the fact that Thailand was affected by a political and economical crisis in 2009, the interest for luxury never abated,” said Meyer.

Meyer remains optimistic about France’s perspectives in Southeast Asia. In 2009, travelers have been more price-conscious but France recorded a decline in accommodation prices of 6 percent with VAT on F&B being also lowered from 19 percent to 5.5 percent. “In 2010, we feel a recovery start in the Singapore market. And we are also very confident that the recent authorization given to AirAsia X to fly to Paris Orly would be a major boost for tourism from Malaysia but also from the rest of the region,” closed the ATOUT FRANCE director for Southeast Asia.