France is one of the popular European destinations for Indian travellers when it comes to luxury and experiential travel. Pre-pandemic, the number of Indian travellers to the country stood at 700,000. “The projections for this year is about in the vicinity of 500,000,” said Sheetal Munshaw, Director of France Tourism Development Agency, Atout France, in India.
But, more than numbers, she says, there has been a clear shift in the way that France has been approaching the market. “The market has evolved greatly, irrespective of Covid. We could see a big level of maturity among the travellers to France even before the pandemic struck. And where India is concerned, there was always great diversification, in terms of the kinds of segments we were able to bring to France,” said Munshaw.
The beginning of the rebound has been incredibly in contrast with the studies and the speculations that were in force during the pandemic, said Munshaw. “Every study led us to believe that we will not see incentives come back,” said Munshaw, adding, “Interestingly, India’s rebound or comeback was with incentives. And, that was a big and a welcome surprise.”
To add to the surprise, there has been a pan India movement and the business is not just limited to the main cities. “While Bombay and Delhi continue to dominate, we now have a footprint in Chennai, Kanpur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Pune, Chandigarh and Jaipur. We can see Indians coming from all over the country, which is why we have a pan India approach,” she said. Something that is clearly reflected in the showcases that Atout France has in France, and in India. “We make sure to have a presence of buyers that are pan Indian, and not just from one or two cities,” she added.
“The second interesting development has been that the sectors have really diversified. Earlier, we could see group movement from Pharma and Banking and it pretty much ended there. But now, we see incentive travel from FMCG and entertainment sectors as well,” she said.
This year, France is anticipating a very big Asian group movement. “The numbers have gone up dramatically. Earlier, we used to have group sizes of 250/300/400 maximum. Now we’re actually seeing groups of 1,000/1,300/ 1500 pax. So, mega movements are coming back,” she said.
Also, the Indian travellers now seem to seek in-depth experiences. They don’t want to do the same old thing. And while the duration of stay remains the same (about four nights on an average), the stay choices have upgraded from four star to more five star accommodations.
“The current crop of Indian travellers is increasingly looking for very different activities. They seek more local experiences, even in incentives, which is a big change from what was a standard format,” shared Neelu Samant of Mumbai-based Quantum travels. “My clients are continuously looking for newer experiences. Cruise tourism, lately, has been a big draw,” she said, adding that a part of her reason to attend Rendezvous en France was to gain more product knowledge.
A delegation of 32 select travel professionals travelled from India to France recently to participate in the 16th edition of the French tourism industry‘s biggest B2B trade show, Rendezvous en France that was held in Paris late March.
“From what I can see, river cruises and curated meal experiences and exploring new regions is what would appeal to them,” said Samant, who caters largely to the luxury market and FIT travellers.
“The travellers seek deeper experiences. Though we always had wine tours for special interest groups, but even for incentive travel now, people want to go to Champagne and do tastings for a day,” added Munshaw. “They want to golf, do a lot of team building exercises and activities. So, it’s allowing us to showcase brands that are unique and in a more dynamic manner than what it used to be,” she said.
Anoop Kanuga of Mumbai-based Bathija Travels said wine and gastronomical experiences are in big demand among Indians. “They no longer want regular travel. Also, post-Covid, the Indians are willing to spend more for a unique experience. They are more aware and are planning well in advance to overcome visa hurdles, which is a great thing considering Indians are known to book last minute,” he said.
Kanuga’s company, like Samant, focusses on FIT travel. “Of course, FIT remains a very big part of our focus,” said Munshaw. “This is a segment we’ve been working on for the last 10 years and we will continue to because we know that Indians love to travel with their families and friends for a holiday or even celebrations,” she added.
Additionally, destination weddings have made a comeback to France. “Likewise, Cinema is back. And it’s not just about Bollywood, but also a lot about OTT and series. A lot of series are being shot in france. And that is very exciting because it generates way much more traction and impact versus a campaign,” she said.
While visa appointment remains a challenge, France is a little more organised than other European countries when it comes to granting of visa. “Pre-Covid, we were delivering visas in 48 hours. Post-Covid, the whole system has changed. And it is for the whole world, and not just for India. Now, everything needs to be uploaded online. And because everything goes up on the system, the turnaround time is longer than it used to be,” said Munshaw, adding that even in this scenario, it cannot be longer than two days.
“We are looking at an average of four to five working days once it hits the respective consulate. On our part, we are working more closely with the trade – to generate awareness, wherein they encourage the clients to plan in advance and take appointments in advance to avoid disappointment at all lengths,” she said.
This year, France decided to hold Salon de Rendezvous in Paris in a bid to highlight the Paris region. “The region, if you see, is much more than just the capital city,” said Munshaw. “When looking from the long haul perspective, there is so much to explore around. What we are looking at is to split the load and encourage travellers to take a more sustainable approach to travel, whereby people actually spread out instead of being overly concentrated in one particular place. Having said that, I think Paris will always remain a focus for the Indian traveller,” she concluded.