Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of The Republic of France to India, in his opening remarks in the session titled ‘India and France: Together in Tourism’, suggested that a major shift was underway in source markets within India. Mumbai and Delhi aside, newer markets, beyond traditional metros, were emerging in India at a rapid pace. He shared that the data provided by the French Consulate in Chennai indicated a significant rise in visa application numbers from the entire south Indian region. “There is almost a 30 per cent increase in visa applications from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry and Andhra Pradesh,” he said.

He emphasised that France was the top European destination, and one of the top destinations globally, for the Indian outbound. The country had much to offer with varied landscapes, monuments and culture, gastronomical experiences and others, he said. The French ambassador expressed tremendous faith in the Indian market and justified his optimism by sharing that the tourist count from India had been north of 700000 in 2017. He called it a “source of great pride” and equally a “matter of immense responsibility” to showcase the larger spectrum of tourism products in France. “It would require a lot of work through the tourist office in India, travel agencies, hospitality professionals and visa processing networks,” he noted. The top envoy added that France needed to focus on “each and every” aspect of the hospitality chain, starting from promotion, publicity and even catering to more numbers of cinema shootings from India. “Given the strength of Bollywood in showcasing a destination, getting more film shoots from India is critical,” he said.

A hassle-free visa procedure was an important prerequisite to attracting tourists, the French ambassador said, adding that France had ensured that visa was granted to an Indian applicant in a matter of 48 hours. “That has been our policy since 2015 and we ensure that through our consular offices and VFS networks,” he said.

Sharing his thoughts on connectivity, he advocated more flights between the two countries and said that “it was an area the embassy was actively working on.” He suggested that getting the basics of the offerings right was another area of importance. “More vegetarian options for travellers in hotels and specific kinds of breakfasts are some of the details we need to work on,” he said.

Weddings and corporate travel were two “fast-growing markets” from India, he said. He favoured more India weddings in France explaining that picturesque landscapes, beautiful castles and hotels made for perfect backdrops for memorable Indian weddings. He shared that “as much as 30 per cent of the total traffic” from India comprised of the MICE segment.

He asserted that tourism was not a “part-time activity”, but a major economic sector of the country and French minister of Foreign Affairs was “personally” driving the effort to boost the segment. He insisted that the “entire chain of tourism” in France was focussing on the Indian market and hoped that the tourism fraternity was working as hard as Delhi and Paris to further strengthen bilateral ties and people-to-people connect.