The setting couldn’t have been more glamorous for the launch of DUCO France on October 11. Parisian palace hotels are lauded as some of the world’s most luxurious places to stay, the “palace” distinction awarded by Atout France to the properties with serious wow factor beyond the five-star classification. And it was within these gilded salons and Michelin-starred restaurants that DUCO France made a splash as the city’s first live, in-person travel event since the COVID pandemic that dramatically crippled international tourism last year.
A niche event focused on a single destination, DUCO France convened 123 French hospitality suppliers and 130 international travel advisors, mostly from the United States. DUCO France is therefore as much an immersive display of the French art de vivre as a showcase for the French tourist industry’s savoir-faire. From the networking sessions and one-on-one appointments to the champagne-soaked soirees with live fashion shows, the mood was celebratory, reflecting the industry’s optimism as borders reopen and travel resumes with a vengeance.
The DUCO Travel Summit is the brainchild of Brazilian-Italian entrepreneur Carolina Perez, who has travel in her blood. After working for 16 years in the family business in São Paulo (Teresa Perez Tours), she went on to launch the international travel show known as Travelweek São Paulo in 2009, later acquired by ILTM Reed Exhibitions in 2013 and rebranded as ILTM Latin America. She founded DUCO in 2018, now expanding to France after the success of DUCO Italy in Florence.
The world’s most visited tourist destination prior to the pandemic, France has nurtured an exceptional luxury hospitality sector that’s celebrated around the world. The DUCO France venues, therefore, read like a “who’s who” of the ultra-luxe sector. Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel, hosted the summit’s registration activities, while Le Bristol welcomed the invite-only press contingent. Taking place over four days, the event appointments were held in a different setting every day, a unique approach for travel industry summits, moving from The Peninsula Paris to Shangri-La Paris and then to InterContinental Paris - Le Grand.
Dorchester Collection’s French properties, Le Meurice and Plaza Athénée, threw the opening-night soirées. At Le Meurice on rue de Rivoli, free-flowing champagne was paired with cuisine created in the Michelin-starred kitchen of the Alain Ducasse restaurant, including a famous Paul Bocuse recipe: A soup of foie gras and truffle covered in puff pastry. An actor dressed as famous historical guest Salvador Dalí circulated among the guests, who also gawked at the live art demonstration. Meanwhile at the Plaza Athénée, Jean Imbert—the young star chef who’s collaborated with Pharrell Williams on restaurant concepts in Miami and Saint-Tropez—could be seen strolling his new digs. As of September 8, the former Top Chef champion has taken over the hotel kitchen when the contract with Alain Ducasse ended.
Gourmet luncheons were arranged by the event’s co-sponsors, including La Réserve Paris, Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, Kimpton Paris St Honoré, Hôtel Barrière Le Fouquet's, Hôtel de Crillon, The Peninsula Paris, Le Royal Monceau - Raffles Paris and Hôtel Lancaster. Last but not least: The Monaco Government Tourist Authority hosted the chic closing event at the Pavillon Dauphine Saint Clair, a sumptuous Belle Epoque-style events space originally built in 1878 for the Universal Exhibition.
Themed “Vive la France,” the summit organized a total of 3,400 daytime meetings that each lasted 15 minutes. Travel advisors spoke of a French connection and a passion in sharing their love of France with clients. The American contingent included Shawna Huffman Owen from Chicago’s Huffman Travel, Martin Rapp from Altour in New York, Dani Grove from California-based Coastline Travel Advisors, Paul Tumpowsky from New York City’s Skylark, and Robert Goldstein from Ovation Travel Group.
Corinne Menegaux, the director of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Luxury Travel Advisor about the bureau’s partnership with DUCO. “The launch of such a destination-oriented event is a great opportunity to promote the city among high-end visitors,” she explained. “It’s also a great opportunity for gathering all luxury segment professionals in Paris to work together to offer the greatest experience for their customers and to show their sustainable practices and innovations. Hospitality is more than just a word—it is about relationship and emotions, and this event allowed Paris to be on the top of the stage on this. As we always say, Paris is always a good idea, and has so many ways of surprising its visitors!”
Atout France, the French tourism development agency and another destination partner, expressed optimism about the country’s tourism recovery. Prior to the pandemic, France welcomed a record 90 million visitors in 2019 and tourism is a significant part of the French economy, representing nearly 8 percent of GDP and 2 million direct and indirect jobs. Agnes Angrand, the deputy director of Atout France USA, told Luxury Travel Advisor that the luxury sector showcased at DUCO France really leads the tourism revival. On the near horizon, the winter mountain season will see a dramatic rebound, based on the current surge in hotel bookings in the French Alps. Angrand noted a new trend among Americans who prioritize sustainability in their travel plans, and she also described a new trend based on pandemic-related changes to the work office environment; travelers are departing for long weekends on Thursdays, working remotely on Friday and Monday, thereby changing the traditional vacation patterns and weekend tourism flux.
A number of new attractions in France will appeal to a wide variety of visitors. In Paris, the Bourse de Commerce-Pinault Collection is drawing contemporary art fans, while the Hôtel de la Marine is delighting history buffs with Versailles-style interiors right smack on the Place de la Concorde. Last summer LVMH opened Samaritaine Paris Pont-Neuf, the famous historical department store, after years of painstaking restoration work. Meanwhile, Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, a long-time shopping destination in the Opera district, continues to see a successful relationship with Virtuoso, designing special VIP shopping packages and experiences like macaron-making classes and fashion shows. In Arles in Provence, a glittering tower designed by architect Frank Gehry houses the LUMA Foundation, a contemporary art center, while Narbo Via is a new museum in Narbonne on the Mediterranean coast dedicated to Roman Antiquity.
New hotels like Cheval Blanc Paris and Le Grand Contrôle in Versailles are elevating an already impressive hotel scene. Also buzzed about: Kimpton St Honoré, the first Kimpton-branded property in France, offers a spa, swimming pool and popular rooftop and restaurant. The newly launched Hotel Madame Rêve likewise has a dreamy rooftop, complete with loungers, right in the heart of the city. Existing luxury hotels took advantage of pandemic closures to renovate. For example, the Chateau de Courcelles, a lovely hideaway near Reims and a popular location for destination weddings, opened the new Marie Louise Suite in homage to Napoleon’s second wife, whom the emperor met onsite. In Paris, the Saint James has undergone a gorgeous makeover by designer Laura Gonzalez. The new decor is a chic, classic French style that underscores the talent of traditional French craftsmen. In the southwest of France between Bordeaux and Biarritz, the palace hotel known as Les Prés d'Eugénie, a member of Relais & Châteaux, opened a new restaurant called L’Orangerie to complement the gastronomic, Michelin three-starred restaurant that was the birthplace of chef Michel Guérard's “slimming cuisine.”
Above all, the exhibitors stressed the importance of the travel advisor relationship. The Ultima Collection, which operates exclusive villas, chalets, and residences in prestigious places like Courchevel, explained how this bond has only strengthened during the pandemic. With constantly changing travel restrictions, travel advisors offer expertise, advice, and inspiration in a challenging time. And in big news for 2022, the Ultima Collection will open a 12-room property on Sainte-Marguerite island just off the coast of Cannes—the privileged and secret kind of address that travel advisors will enjoy sharing with their Riviera-loving clients.