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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
Tourism industry seeks peace dividend
Mark Coyle byline pic
By Mark Coyle
BBC News Online

The war in Iraq over, French and British tourism organisations are trying afresh to woo visitors to their respective countries.

Marketing campaigns are under way on both sides of the English Channel - and in the United States - aimed primarily at encouraging first-time visitors to make a trip.

Visitor numbers in both directions are down.

Esther Grounds, marketing and operations director of Lancashire-based Chez Nous, a leading directory of private properties to let in France, said there had been about 20 cancellations during the first fortnight of the war.

French chateau
Of course the British are welcome, French people can't imagine it any differently
Marie-Therese Smith
French Government Tourist Office

This was a "tiny fraction" of the number of bookings received by the company although she said year-on-year bookings were down by 20%.

Alongside the Iraq conflict, she cited the perceived risk of international travel and an economic downturn.

Chez Nous, in line with other travel bodies, has embarked on marketing campaigns designed to persuade first-time visitors to book up.

Many tour operators are offering incentives, including price cuts.

The French Government Tourist Office in America is faced with a particularly difficult challenge, given the anti-French sentiment which has reportedly surfaced in parts of the US.

US director Patrick Goyet has placed a statement on his organisation's website, aimed at reassuring Americans who are concerned about the reception they might receive in France.

It says: "I am certain that a few American visitors will be asked about the US administration's policy on Iraq out of concern and a genuine wish to understand.

"But if indeed, as has recently been reported, there have been some unpleasant encounters, I strongly believe that they were few and far between.

"Speaking as a Frenchman and for the overwhelming majority of my fellow countrymen, I consider any such behaviour embarrassing, offensive and ultimately very ignorant."

'Cost hurdle'

As some tourists decide not to leave their own countries, so their domestic destinations stand to benefit.

John Gaudern, director of the Paris office of VisitBritain, the organisation which promotes Britain abroad, said the French home market was his biggest competitor.

"French people are used to it, it's got the variety," he said. "Britain is more expensive for certain things such as food and accommodation.

John Gaudern
John Gaudern: French playing "waiting game"

"I would suspect that we would find post-war we are going to get some people back providing we can look at some areas where we've got challenges. The cost particularly is a major hurdle at the moment."

Approximately 250,000 French people crossed the English Channel to Britain in March, about 35,000 down on the previous year.

But he echoed Esther Grounds's message that the number of people travelling had fallen around the world, not just in one geographical part of the industry.

The total number of holiday bookings made with French travel agents is reckoned to be down by about 15% but he was optimistic that the market would bounce back.

"It's what the French call 'attentisme' - they're waiting to see what's going to happen," Mr Gaudern added.

School trips down

Going back in time, foot-and-mouth disease, the post-September 11 effect, the war and latterly Sars had combined to create difficult conditions.

He said the number of school trips in particular had dropped along with short breaks.

"We know of two groups that have cancelled, mainly cultural youth groups to Scotland for instance, but why Scotland in particular I'm not sure.

TGV advertising billboard in Paris
The French domestic market stands to gain

"One hopes there will be an increasing number coming back as the peace is much more concrete and much more relevant in their minds."

Philippe Demonchy, spokesman for the national union of travel agents in France, underlined his words. "The most difficult period has passed," he estimated.

The French Government Tourist Office in London has the task of tempting people in Britain to France.

Spokeswoman Marie-Therese Smith said various tour operators were reporting a drop in reservations from the beginning of the year.

However, the last two weeks had seen signs of bookings picking up.

"Of course the British are welcome, French people can't imagine it any differently," she emphasised.

"We have nothing against British or American people - French people don't understand what the problem is."

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