Report From Paris: Rendez-vous en France 2023

Picture this: Costumed dancers and fire-hurling acrobats perform on an open-air stage next to the River Seine, the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the background. A parade of musicians, their clothes and instruments decorated with neon glow lights, lead partygoers along the quay to a series of moored river boats. There they embark for a midnight cruise on the world-famous waterway that will take center stage for the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games 2024.

This was the soirée scene at Rendez-vous en France, French tourism’s largest B2B trade show. The return to Paris for the 16th edition was highly anticipated. Yet the event wasn’t without its challenges: There have been heated street demonstrations and transit strikes against the government’s planned pension reform, not to mention the piles of uncollected garbage because of the trash collectors’ strike. Despite these roadblocks, there was excitement at the show, particularly for the delegations of international tour operators who hadn’t been to France since before the pandemic. Overall, 786 tour operators from 67 countries connected with 660 French exhibitors in meetings on March 21-22 at the Porte de Versailles Convention Center.

Atout France, the French tourism development agency, announced a record €58 billion of tourism spending in 2022. CEO Caroline Leboucher said, “French tourism has recovered, even exceeding pre-pandemic levels.” With tourism comprising 10 percent of France’s GDP, the government’s €2 billion recovery plan has been vital in bolstering the destination’s attractiveness through promotional campaigns and investments in technology and infrastructure.

Atout France CEO Caroline Lebouche
Atout France CEO Caroline Lebouche (Photo by Atout France)

Improved air connectivity, exciting new openings, and major sporting events like the Rugby World Cup promise a robust year for French tourism in 2023, followed by an even bigger year in 2024 with the Paris Olympics.

The demand for France as a destination, particularly from American visitors, is strong. “Though the number of American visitors dropped in 2022 (3.7 million vs. 4.7 million in 2019), an Oxford Economics report shows a 34.9 percent increase in spending (€5.5 billion),” explained Anne-Laure Tuncer, director of Atout France USA. Most travel to France between June and September, so a major focus this year will be to promote France as a year-long destination. “For example, Provence in the offseason months between January and March, and the wine regions in the spring and autumn.” Big events have provided an added incentive for trips to France; many Americans will be traveling for the Rugby World Cup in September, and in terms of ticket sales for the Paris Olympics, the U.S. is already in the top three nationalities. “The Olympics will be an incredible showcase of France,” said Tuncer. “The opening ceremony on the Seine is completely unique, as is the use of famous landmarks like the Palace of Versailles for the equestrian events and the Eiffel Tower for beach volleyball.”

There were a total of 76 American tour operators in attendance at the show, representing a diverse variety of travel companies including Avanti Destinations, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Tauck, Jet Vacations, Globus Travel Services, Gate 1, Road Scholar, Eurobound, Departure Lounge and Duvine Cycling and Adventure Company. Pre-show FAM trips crisscrossed the Hexagon to take in France’s diverse regions, before converging in the City of Light for the show. 

Spotlight on Paris

As one of the world’s most popular destinations, Paris is constantly renewing, renovating, and improving its tourism offerings. Take the hotels, for example: New properties are adding to the glamour of an already red-hot scene: Le Grand Mazarin, Too Hotel, Maison Delano, SO/ Paris, Maison Proust, Hôtel Dame des Arts, La Fantaisie, among others.

SO/ Paris Hotel guestroom
A guestroom at the SO/ Paris Hotel (Photo by SO/ Paris Hotel)

Cultural venues and exhibits also draw the crowds. From the Galerie Dior to the Picasso Museum collection reimagined by designer Paul Smith, there’s always something new to discover. Exciting news: Notre-Dame cathedral, devastated by the 2019 fire, will reopen at the end of 2024. The restoration effort is pharaonic, enlisting diverse artisans, from carpenters and masons to stained glass specialists. A new underground visitor center in the forecourt of the cathedral explains the entire restoration project. 

When it comes to shopping, the legendary department stores like Galeries Lafayette, Samaritaine, and Printemps continue to enhance their services. Case in point: The sprawling new spa and wellness area at the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann flagship.

For Paris Tourism, a key strategy is to promote areas of the city that are less touristed, alongside sites in the Greater Paris Region beyond the Boulevard Périphérique (the beltway). The #ExploreParis platform, by which you can sign up for unique tours and experiences, is one such mechanism for encouraging off-the-beaten-path discovery such as street art tours in Belleville, inside access to UNESCO headquarters, and cruises on the Ourcq canal. Easily accessible by public transport, the suburbs offer historical sites, artisanal breweries, art galleries and more. For example, the magnificent Chateau de Vincennes—situated in the Val-de-Marne department—is just a few minutes’ ride on the metro line 1 from Bastille. Managed by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, this historical monument served as a royal residence from the 12th to the 18th centuries, its tower used as a prison for the likes of Fouquet and the Marquis de Sade. Today, it offers the visitor an immersion in the Middle Ages just at the gates of Paris. To the north, the must-visit Saint-Denis Basilica was the birthplace of gothic architecture and necropolis for the French monarchs. And to the south in the Hauts-de-Seine department, the town of Sceaux makes for a wonderful day trip, famous for its chateau and monumental gardens conceived in the 17th century by renowned landscape designer André Le Nôtre, 

Rendez-vous en France tradeshow
There's always plenty happening in Paris—from new hotels to exhibits and shopping. (Photo by Atout France)

As the countdown begins to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024, the world’s gaze is on Paris. Major investments are being made with a tourism action plan to improve the visitor welcome through professional training, harness business intelligence to measure the impact on tourism, and promote the destination, capitalizing on media attention, to maximize the economic benefits and encourage visitors to extend their stay. The Games will also provide an incredible opportunity to showcase the destination to TV viewers around the world (3.2 billion, as measured during the last Tokyo Games).

Paris is prioritizing sustainable infrastructure, with 95 percent use of existing or temporary venues, to cut the carbon footprint in half. The Olympic Aquatic Center, currently under construction in Saint-Denis using energy-efficient technology, is one of the only sports facilities that’s being built. Following the Olympics, the venue will be used as a sports facility for all local inhabitants to enjoy.

Good to know: On Location is the official hospitality provider for the Olympic Games, the first time in history that it’s been streamlined with a new global hospitality model. Working exclusively with the Olympics Organizing Committees, On Location has launched a series of ticket-inclusive travel experiences that highlight exclusive access and premium-level service, at a wide range of prices at a variety of hotels.

What’s New in France in 2023

Have you seen the #ExploreFrance marketing campaigns? Building on the success of 2022’s promotions, Atout France has launched 2023’s “Dream Big, Live Slow,” to target families, "DINKS" and Millennials in North America and Europe. The campaign highlights three themes—Nature/ Slow Tourism, Art de Vivre/Food, Culture/Heritage—by depicting specific experiences. For example, Burgundy has launched a new truffle trail, while Occitanie has developed a rail itinerary and the Bordeaux wine region has introduced a new low-carbon tour of the vineyards via electric bike. Good to know: The new Vallée de La Gastronomie, which encompasses 620 kilometers from Dijon to the Mediterranean, comprises 450 different gourmet experiences, including encounters with chefs, behind the scenes tours, cooking classes, and more.

In other news, the Chateau de Versailles will be feting its 400th birthday. Hauts-de-France has been awarded the European Region of Gastronomy for 2023—the first time France has ever been officially recognized with this honor. Brittany is showing off beautiful and original accommodations: The Île Vierge lighthouse and the Château Des Pères, a futuristic treehouse near Rennes. Alsace will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its fabled Route des Vins.

Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle
The Chateau de Versailles will be celebrating its 400th birthday in 2023. (Airelles)

Provence and the Côte d’Azur, which has proved most resilient in terms of tourism numbers during the pandemic crisis, is celebrating the region’s nature reserves, which comprise the largest protected area of any French region (60 percent of the territory is protected). The Écrins National Park will mark its 50th birthday in 2023.

Traversing two French regions, the La Loire à Vélo cycling route has introduced a new passport, by which visitors can collect 24 stamps at tourist offices. A fun souvenir, it also doubles as a travel journal.

In Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is celebrating a millennium since the abbey’s construction. The Armada Rouen will assemble the world’s finest tall ships on the banks of the Seine from June 8-18. Taking place every four years, this popular 10-day event brings a real festival vibe with an estimated 4 million visitors. Come 2024, Normandy will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Impressionism movement in a big way with the Normandy Impressionist Festival. And the 80th anniversary of D-Day in 2024 promises to be an incredibly moving event. Delta recently announced it will fly 50 WWII veterans direct from Atlanta to Deauville for the occasion.

Mark your calendars for the next edition of Rendezvous en France, which will take place on March 26-27, 2024 in Toulouse. In the meantime, travel professionals can discover Atout France’s newly launched E-Learning platform called “France Connaisseur.

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