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Welcome City Lab: the City of Lights will illuminate touristic innovation in Mexico in 2015

Interview with Laurent Queige, Managing Director of Welcome City Lab

On Tuesday September 9th, 2014, Anne Hidalgo inaugurated Welcome City Lab, settled for three months on 76 bis, rue de Rennes. The government of Paris, saluted this visionary incubator of an innovative entrepreneurial approach. “We’re betting on digital technology,” she exclaimed cheerfully. An incredibly novel project that intends to expand beyond the boundaries of France's capital. Laurent Queige, Office Director of the former Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of tourism, Jean-Bernard Bros, is now the Managing Director of Welcome City Lab.

Rédigé par Mathilde Khlat translated by Joséphine Foucher le Jeudi 11 Septembre 2014

Laurent Queige, Managing Director of Welcome City Lab.
Laurent Queige, Managing Director of Welcome City Lab.
i-tourism: How was the Welcome City Lab (WCL) project born?

Laurent Queige: “The objective of the WCL is to be a global Leader in terms of touristic innovation.

We wanted to make Paris a dynamic city, that looks to the future, a city that moves, far from its traditional image.

As a leader in the most visited city in the world, we sometimes tend to rest on our laurels. Paris was able to question itself, which is often the attitude of a challenger and not a leader.

Another observation that I made over the years: start-ups unanimously expressed that they encountered difficulties reaching tourism professional.

They would come see us at the City Hall, and tell us that nobody was interested in buying their services. They would share their hardship in entering this milieu if you weren’t already part of the niche.

Hence the creation of this incubator that wishes to be a space for encounters and exchanges for all tourism professionals through seminars, conferences, and other events.

The audience is very mixed and complementary. It’s a space for networking between the tourism sector and the new sprouts of urban tourism.”

i-tourism: This type of project was never established before?

LG: “During creation, I made an international benchmark to see how cities dealt with the innovation of their touristic strategy.

I was stunned by some of the cities' answers when I questioned them. None had a concrete policy concerning business incubators.”

i-tourism: For what reasons according to you?

LG: “With the digital economy, new actors have arrived. There has been a diversification of tourism professionals. We didn’t know how to integrate them in the touristic strategy of cities.

Thus, we envisioned the WCL, which also boosts the image of Paris.

The first city in the world to create an incubator. It is extraordinary that we had to wait until 2013.”

A Welcome City Lab in Mexico by 2015

i-tourism: What did you hope for at the beginning?

LQ: “We quickly realized that Paris had a major role to play. We wanted to make the capital an initiator in terms of touristic innovation.

From the start, we were also thinking about the international dimension that the project could have. But for us, that only came second.”

i-tourism: Things didn’t go as planned?

LQ: «Absolutely not. It was the opposite and that thanks for the power of social networks. Just a few years ago, I would have had to pay a press officer to export the concept.

But today, I don’t have to spend a dime because we have a strong presence on social networks. That is how we became known abroad.

People would spontaneously call us. They wanted to know how we managed to create such a project.

We really didn’t think that the internationalization process would come from the start, even before the opening of our incubator on rue de Rennes.”

i-tourism: Which cities contacted you?

LQ: “First, Mexico City, with which the city of Paris has a decentralized cooperation, or a cooperation pact.

We went there following numerous exchanges. A WCL will open in June 2015 in Mexico.

This city is not very touristic yet, visitors tend to visit Cancun and Acapulco. It is a transit zone towards sites and beaches in Mexico. It is not seen as a tourist destination.

However, the municipality wishes to turn it into a tourist center. It is going to create a tourism office, because it didn’t have one anymore. On the first floor of this building, there will be an WCL.

In Paris, the theme evolves around urban tourism and innovation. We wanted to diversify the image of the capital. In Mexico, it is the opposite, it will be about highlighting the historical heritage of the city center.

Because this kind of work has not been done yet, whereas that heritage is very rich, with its aztec archeological ruins and those of the colonial period.”

i-tourism: What is the status of the City of Paris in this cooperation? Is it making money?

LQ: “We help them in the engineering of project creation. The WCL is a brand.

The city of Paris doesn’t make any money, but we are thinking about it for the future. We are currently working on an exclusive right to use the brand name.”

Benefit from an international network of partnerships

i-tourism: Have you had other contacts?

LQ: «We had informal contacts and encounters with Dakar, Quebec, Shanghai and Budapest.

A formal decision was undertaken with that last city: two Hungarian start-ups are going to spend three months at the WCL in the Winter of 2015. Start-ups that target, naturally, the Parisian tourism market.

In exchange, two WCL start-ups will go to Budapest.

The objective in the long run is for the start-ups to benefit from an international network of partnerships.

i-tourism: And on the national scale?

LQ: “Local collectivities or institutional tourism organizations contacted us and we had work meetings but nothing has yet materialized.

There is the regional committee of Aquitaine, and the one of Rhône-Alpes, the regional council of the North, the community of the communes of Nîmes, Strasbourg, and Clermont-Ferrand.”

i-tourism: What is the WCL’s annual budget?

LQ: “800,000 euros to run 30 start-ups annually. But this budget depends on the local context, the projects etc…”

i-tourism: How could we qualify the culture of innovation in tourism?

LQ: “It’s just beginning. The sector wasn’t open to that but innovation is not viewed as a potential threat. Bringing awareness will take years, but we’re on the right track.

We are the last of the 15 start-ups of Paris Region Lab. The business incubator phenomenon is multiplying and tourism has joined this dynamic, which makes us very optimistic.

On top of public powers, it is run by private partners, seven important tourism companies: Amadeus, Air France, Aéroport de Paris, Sodexo, Viparis, Groupe Galeries Lafayette, Skyboard.
These partners can stimulate their own innovation within the WCL.

We are the only incubator, out of the 15, to have a steering committee both public and private. I felt very strongly about that factor. It is a success of co-existence.”

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