AF And Atout France Ask Trade To Help Welcome Canadians Back

Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

With the iconic Louvre in Paris reopening its doors on 06JUL following months of closure due to the coronavirus, the sense of a gradual return to normalcy might be gleaned from a once again smiling Mona Lisa. 

France has long been a quintessential destination this side of the pond, in 2018 welcoming 1.2 million visitors from Canada, and the country is once again welcoming Canadian tourists. 

On 30JUN, the European Union published a list of approved "safe" countries that are allowed to travel to its member states for the purpose of tourism, starting on 01JUL, 2020. While the list was only a recommendation, France responded favourably by adopting the EU’s suggestion and reopening borders to all 14 approved countries, including Canada, starting 01JUL, 2020.  

Atout France has always nurtured a strong relationship with the Canadian trade. Open Jaw attended a recent press webinar hosted by the Air France-KLM Group in which the message was clear: the agency continues to be available to advise and support travel agents selling France as a destination.

But if we've learned anything about the virus in the last few weeks, it's that things change quickly.

"Those that have already booked, I think they should always consider that they might have to cancel. They have to handle the risk and disappointment, and people need to be open to unusual situations," cautioned Melanie Paul-Hus, Atout France Director for Canada.

The EU will review its list of accepted countries every two weeks and adjust accordingly, based on how other countries are faring with new COVID-19 infections.

The Government of Canada continues to advise its citizens against non-essential travel and requires mandatory isolation and quarantine for all travellers entering Canada through at least 31AUG, 2020.

"On all sides, we need to be flexible," said Paul-Hus.

"The trade can start selling and arranging trips, but it will have to adapt. It may need to be a different type of trip [that they plan for their clients]. Maybe customers will want to stay longer in France, especially if they have to quarantine [on their return to Canada] or they will want to choose different activities [in France]."

The trade needs to be open to new travel preferences and be knowledgeable about the various options for activities, transportation or accommodations in-destination, Paul-Hus advised. This might involve actively planning to limit the number of contacts their clients have with other people, or advising their clients of mandatory health and safety protocols for visiting certain attractions. 

"There will be a lot of more sophisticated planning involved and the trade needs to start researching that quickly. They need to get in touch with DMCs, who can help them quickly, or reach out [to Atout France] for help, advice or information," she adds.

Atout France plans to conduct virtual workshops for advisors to connect with contacts and suppliers in France, adds Paul-Hus.

Air France continues to operate flights between CDG and both YUL and YYZ, as it has throughout the entire pandemic (and Air Canada announced 22MAY it would operate flights between YUL and CDG starting JUN). 

Vincent Etchebehere, Director, Canada of Air France, believes the airline's relationship with the trade will be "even more important" post-COVID. 

He suggests travel advisors remain up-to-date with the rapidly changing information surrounding flight changes, in-destination and airport regulations, and health and safety protocols. Air France, in turn, will work to "help our travel agencies see a bit clearer in the current context," he said. 

As Air France starts to see a slight uptick in passenger traffic, Etchebehere says VFR traffic is rebounding before leisure or business travel. 

"It's very important our trade partners are sensitive to new trends and are open to adjusting their offers or action plans to target those new trends and those new opportunities," he advised. 

Etchebehere will leave his post at the end of the month to head Air France’s Sustainability and New Mobilities in Paris. Catherine Guillemart-Dias will take over his position, effective 01AUG.

Guillemart-Dias highlighted Air France will continue to support the trade in Canada.

"We have been working a lot on adapting our operation to support our trade. We need to continue working on communication, making sure we are sending the most accurate information, listening to requests from our travel partners," she said.

"This is a fast-evolving situation, changing almost every day, and it is really key to have empathy and flexibility."

Anna Kroupina

Anna Kroupina Journalist

Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.

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