, 1er journal des professionnels du tourisme francophone

Matthias Fekl: “France is still the primary tourism destination in the world…”

Interview with Secretary of State in charge of Tourism Promotion

It is almost two years since Matthias Fekl began investing in the defense and promotion of French tourism. A task that occupies a large part of the schedule of this avid traveler. Yet, he managed to make time for a lengthy interview with

Rédigé par Laury-Anne CHOLEZ translated by Joséphine Foucher le Lundi 11 Juillet 2016

For almost two years, Matthias Fekl has been devoting heart and soul to tourism - DR : Quai d'Orsay
For almost two years, Matthias Fekl has been devoting heart and soul to tourism - DR : Quai d'Orsay - Next September, you will celebrate your two years as head of Secretary of State for Tourism. How do you assess the actions undertaken?

Matthias Fekl: Naturally, it isn’t time yet to make an assessment, but I can tell you what we have accomplished, first under the auspices of Laurent Fabius, then Jean-Marc Ayrault.

First, we defined a national strategy in partnership with professionals. Because the goal was not to enact things on our own, but to build a public policy with those who, on the field, are making this wonderful sector of two million jobs flourish, which accounts for 8% of our national wealth.

We also established several, very diverse tools, such as destination contracts or the financing fund of the Deposit and Consignment Office, that has a budget of one billion euros.

In fact, the General Director is currently traveling around the Regions of France to introduce this measure. - You also travel a lot to promote French regions…

Matthias Fekl: Yes. And I am trying to do the Tour de France but also of the world in order to promote our country and highlight all of our regions.

Every region must benefit from tourism and have the opportunity to expand in this sector. In this respect, we worked on several thematics, such as wine tourism, with the launch of the Visit French Wine portal.

Since the Notre law, Regions have become leaders in tourism.

They significantly fund Atout France. Of course, we must work hand in hand on finding a way to promote our country as a destination, including toward the French.

We must bring forth the idea that they have extraordinary things to discover right at their doorstep! In fact, the increase of French overnight stays has partly compensated the decline in foreign clientele lately.

This confirms the value of this strategy. - What was the impact of the terrorist attacks on tourism in France?

Matthias Fekl: In spite of the attacks, our country remains the number one tourism destination in the world. People keep coming, even though some skip Paris and its region. I will introduce an assessment at the end of the summer season.

But we can already estimate a drop of 20% on Paris and Ile de France in terms of international overnight stays. After the November terrorist attacks, I organized a meeting with all players in order to take appropriate measures.

We must move forward, be positive and avoid insisting on the less useful aspects. In this respect, we are planning a major event in Macao for which France will be the guest of honor.

It is the International Tourism Forum where all the Chinese tourism decision-makers will be attending, in mid-October. Furthermore, upon the request of Jean-Marc Ayrault, we established a campaign on social networks with Atout France that targets the markets that suffered most following the attacks. - Talking about Atout France, Laurent Fabius declared that the agency did not have the means to be the strong arm of the most popular tourism destination in the world. What do you think?

Matthias Fekl: We released 5 million euros on visas in order to flourish Atout France’s budget. There is also a significant increase of private funding with 800 member companies that are major financiers.

We are currently in a difficult budget context and all operators must contribute to fiscal consolidation efforts.

Here, we have a well-tried modern model of a public and private partnership. Besides, I’ll take this opportunity to confirm that M. Mantei has my full trust along with the government’s.

He is a highly esteemed professional and the rumors around his departure are unfounded. - In their roadmap for tourism, the Republicans talked about creating a new, global-scale communications agency in order to promote our country. A type of competitor to Atout France…

Matthias Fekl: During their workshops, “The Republicans” questioned all the persons who were nominated by Laurent Fabius in implementing the tourism policy.

I even received an invitation to testify myself… It was quite funny. Visibly, they understood that we work with the right contacts and that we chose the right resource people (smile)!

In any case, politics isn't a game where everything is allowed, and it particularly does not tolerate breaking what already works. There are structural decisions on the economic sector that must be deployed on the long term.

By this, we mean investments, upscaling and expanding the offer. This cannot be done in a five-year presidential term but over several years. Promoting the France brand is extensive work, sometimes discreet and internal. Professionals recognized that the government has made strong commitments in this sector. - When he was heading the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius was highly involved in the tourism sector. Is Jean-Marc Ayrault equally involved?

Matthias Fekl: Jean-Marc Ayrault emphasized his strong commitment to the sector. As the mayor of Nantes, he put tourism at the heart of his development strategy. He addresses the sector every time he goes there and he will preside the Annual Tourism Conference.

He reiterated that ambassadors hold the high responsibility of mobilizing around it, and he reminded them that this sector is part of their evaluation and mission. It is true that Laurent Fabius was the first to carry tourism loud and clear within the Ministry beginning 2012.

This is something that Jean-Marc Ayrault is pursuing. In fact, I wish to insist that, out of principle, I am in favor of fixing the number of government members, to avoid a change every time there is a cabinet reshuffle.

Indeed, there is nothing worse for administrations and operators than needing six months to understand who is their contact person and on which topic. Tourism, in essence, is interdepartmental and will always be.

There needs to be a driving entity at the governmental hierarchy level. This is the case today with its attachment to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. - What impact will Brexit have on tourism?

Matthias Fekl: This is a never-seen before phenomenon in the history of the European construction.

Depending on how the rate of the Pound evolves, it could have a strong impact on upcoming decisions of the British to come to France and on their expenses, especially on last minute reservations. However, reservations for the summer seem to be maintained.

We still do not have specific figures, but I did a quick survey among regional players during a work meeting that I organized last week. Last monday, in Bretagne, reservations were confirmed.

We are following this issue very closely. In the longer term, we will tackle the challenge of the free movement of the British, in order for them to still be able to visit our country in a simple way. As for now, the UK is still part of the EU and nothing has changed, legally speaking. - For the closure of border crossings, a report by France Stratégie believes that the reestablishment of controls may deprive France of 1 billion euros in annual tourism revenues. How can we reconcile safety and tourism?

Matthias Fekl: In the current context, we are naturally paying close attention to security services. But the visa facilitation policy for tourists is confirmed.

In China, the issuing of visas is done in 48 hours, even 24 hours for groups. More than one third of visas in the world are delivered in 48 hours for tourists.

Which has exponential results. We have no reason to take a step back on this. The role of a modern administration is to target and identify risks. - While France remains the number one destination in the world, in terms of revenues we are still suffering. What is your strategy to fight this?

Matthias Fekl: We want to establish a few structural measures in order for the whole territory to develop and for visitors to stay longer, to visit more things, and to spend more money.

I am happy to see that professionals agree to move toward a strategy of quality and authenticity and not toward low-cost offers. We are also developing the business tourism sector with the establishment of a special roadmap for organizing a sector committee of professional events.

I have personally mobilized to attract trade-fairs and congresses in France because they are highly profitable for tourism, both in Paris and surrounding cities that have developed conference centers. This is a type of tourism where expenditures are three time higher than in the leisure sector.

It is also an important stake for foreign trade since all the major French trade-fairs are often a first step in the international development of SME and intermediate companies. - How do you foresee your future inside the government?

Matthias Fekl: I believe that to be in politics, one must have the legitimacy of the votes.

Then, you have to pave your own way and be free. Which I am.

For over ten years, I have built a political path around very simple principles: not owe anything to anyone and do your job well.

My public life did not begin with my appointment into the government and will not end with my exit.

Matthias Fekl : "La France demeure la première destination touristique au monde..."

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