Do you regard France as just a direct booking market? Lee Hayhurst begs to differ.
According to the hype, 2011 was the year of the staycation – the term that came to mean holidaying in the UK. And this renaissance of the domestic holiday tells us a lot about the family market.
Families make up the lion’s share of the ‘squeezed middle’ – that buzzword flung around by politicians – and the economic impact on this vital customer segment is being felt by the travel industry.
Some families have chosen to go on holiday in the UK to keep costs down, but many still want to venture abroad. Good value old favourites such as Spain and Greece have seen a resurgence, but what about our nearest neighbour, France?
brits love france
Tourism office Atout France believes that the market indicators for this year bode well for it to attract the family market.
Jean-Pierre Courteau, the tourist board’s UK director, speaks of the "love affair" Brits have with the country. "It’s a tradition in Britain that children went to France with their families or on school trips. Those children, when they get married and have children of their own, then want to take their children there," he says.
Courteau says France has a diverse range of accommodation ideally suited to families, including over one million privately-owned properties, 55,000 gîtes and 10,000 B&Bs and cottages.
France also has the world’s second-largest collection of campsites (behind the US) and is in the process of regrading all of its 14,000 hotels according to a new classification system that will see properties refurbished to meet new standards.
However, despite the clear attractions of France the country has not been widely seen as a viable trade sales opportunity, largely due to the perception of it being dominated by independent travellers and the amount of competition in the market.
But Hoseasons international property manager Drew Dunn believes it ought to be considered as a potentially lucrative switch-sell opportunity for agents, who might otherwise see a cash-strapped customer walk out of the door having not booked a holiday.
"Travel agents are a little behind the trend in terms of France; it’s never really front of mind," he says.
"It may be a bit of a cliché but people who go on a self-drive holiday are maybe a little more independent and less inclined to go into a traditional high street agent. But I think France is a fantastic switch-sell opportunity for someone who has gone into a travel agency with two or three kids and the cost of flights is making them think twice about going away at all."
Dunn says that for the knowledgeable agent there is fantastic product to be found in France, on a par with that offered in the more established holiday resorts in destinations like Spain.
In particular, he highlights Saint Jean de Monts, located in the Vendée region on the Atlantic coast between Nantes and Bordeaux, and adds that Hoseasons was also able to negotiate some very good-value rates from ferry companies, which it passes on to agents.
Hoseasons and its trade-friendly brands French Country Cottages and Cottages4you offer a diverse range of accommodation including family-focused holiday villages owned by French operator Pierre & Vacances. To try to make France more affordable for families it offers four-person discounts to ensure taking a larger property is cost-effective.
ask an expert
Another trade-friendly operator is Matthews Holidays, which offers agents 10% commission. Specialising in self-drive mobile home holidays, it also offers attractive value-added deals for family groups and has been courting the trade, according to director Iris Matthews. "We used to do a lot through travel agents, but then it died off, mainly because there is a lot of competition. We sent a mailshot to proactive agents who had not booked with us in the past three years, and a lot replied and asked for a brochure. We are more than happy to increase the number of agents that book with us and we do not undercut them direct."
Matthews encourages agents to pick up the phone when they have a client in front of them, and says there is a wide range of ferry crossings and departure ports.
Matthews urges agents not to overlook France, and to allow an expert operator to guide them.
"France has a lot of interesting things going on. There is always something to do and unlike here in the UK they do not charge extortionate entrance fees for families to see attractions. It offers the sort of holiday that the family can enjoy together – and it’s way within their budget."
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