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Auvergne before Hawaii: the region is making the buzz in the tourism world

Interview with Jean-François Jobert, Executive Director of the CRDT of Auvergne

Incredible but true! According to the 2016 ranking of the top 10 regions to visit in the world from Lonely Planet, Auvergne stands before Hawaii. Therefore, according to the number 1 editor of travel guides in the world, it would be a dreamier destination than the mythical archipelagoes of the Pacific Ocean. Auvergne is indeed a booming touristic destination that is attracting more and more foreign visitors. To better understand the advantages of Auvergne and the factors behind its tourism success, we met with Jean-François Jobert, Executive Director of the Regional Committee of Touristic Development of Auvergne.

Rédigé par Saliha Hadj-Djilani translated by Joséphine Foucher le Vendredi 4 Décembre 2015

Auvergne before Hawaii: the region is making the buzz in the tourism world - Were you expecting for Lonely Planet to offer Auvergne such a distinction?

Jean-François Jobert: Yes and no. Yes, because we had welcomed, in September 2014, the journalist of the Lonely Planet, Anita ISALSKA, who we met during a media tour in Great Britain and who fell in love with Auvergne.

The thematic “fauna and flora” was the main theme of her program but her general crush on Auvergne incited her to stay in contact with my teams to write several passionate articles on the destination. No, because we had not really imagined being featured in the TOP 10 of this world leader in guides that characterizes the Lonely Planet.” - How do you explain such a blessing?

J.-F. J.: “For me it is the outcome of two factors:

- a long term touristic policy implemented and coordinated by the Auvergne Region based on constant research of quality, the improvement of touristic accommodations, and the enhancement of the global image of the destination taken from “evidence” (touristic offers.)
- promotion towards a foreign clientele which has been a clear priority of the Regional Committee since several years.

We must also note that Auvergne was acknowledged by the French government since it was integrated in the first 9 contracts of the destination signed in December 2014.

All of these elements led Auvergne and its tourism to acquire international credibility. The continued increase of visitors, consumption, and tourism jobs created in Auvergne attests to that.” - What are the main touristic advantages of Auvergne?

J.-F. J.: “Lonely Planet summarizes it very well: “… Auvergne is reinventing itself…without giving up an ounce of its rural appeal.” Our positioning is based on the notion of “nature.” It is composed mainly of three identity thematics that are wilderness heritage and ecotourism, open air activities, health and wellness.

We sell Auvergne as the antithesis of mass tourism: every visitor is a special host who comes to “experience things” and not “do things.” Our work constituted mostly in offering touristic offers resolutely anchored in the 21st century (comfort, level of services, connectivity, inventiveness…) but that stay true to an Auvergne state of mind; its “DNA” in some way.” - What particularly attracts foreign tourists to Auvergne?

J.-F. J.: “I want to say ‘everything’: its wilderness and architectural heritage, its cuisine, its inhabitants. For example, the volcano chain is obviously a spectacular heritage that enables us to “stand out” from other rural destinations and guarantees immediate seduction.

But I especially believe that Auvergne is the embodiment of the “hidden” France. Foreign visitors come not only to admire the Auvergne landscapes but they also want to dive at the heart of the real, authentic, and preserved France; a territory that is “loyal” to its identity and that doesn’t “cheat” to attract a touristic clientele at any cost.” - How do you communicate on Auvergne to the foreigner?

J.-F. J.: “We take on comprehensive and multifaceted actions that target the general audience, influencers (journalists, bloggers…) and different channels.

Of course, we also base ourselves on the network of Atout France but also on other channels. While the challenge on the French clientele is to change the image of Auvergne to get rid of certain ideas perpetuated on the region, for a foreign clientele, the focus is about developing the popularity of the destination abroad. Meaning that the operations are of a different nature.” - What are the numbers on French and foreign visitors in Auvergne?

J.-F. J.: “Only 15% of our clientele is from abroad when the national average is at more than 30%. Meaning that there is a lot of work to do.

90% of foreigners are Europeans of which 36% come from Holland. Then, we have the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Germany between 13 and 11%. But the novelty to announce is the arrival of a clientele from far away such as the USA, Canada, Oceania, or Japan.

Granted that the quantities are still very low, but the phenomenon is in full expansion and sufficiently important to be mentioned: +133% in a year for the USA for instance.” - Did you establish thematic tours for foreign visitors?

J.-F. J.: “We do it via the support of tour-operators. We are going to think about something that is more pro-active in the realm of a destination contract signed with the Minister in charge of tourism promotion, that unites 18 partners (collectivities, institutions, natural parks, visit sites etc…).” - What are the foreign tourism markets that you wish to conquer in 2016 and how do you hope to attract them?

J.-F. J.: “On Europe, we communicate as much as in Auvergne. The destination contract mostly aims at Great-Britain, Germany, Holland, and Belgium but we are also working on our “secondary” markets such as Switzerland or Italy.

For faraway markets outside of Europe, it is our colleagues from the Rhône-Alpes who are standing as the “front office” of the greater Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region, Auvergne handles the “back office” for the part that affects it.

We specifically accentuate our effort on the USA, Canada, and Japan. But we don’t doubt that we will soon need to prepare ourselves to welcome other nationalities such as the Chinese or Indians.”

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