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“With the crisis, attractiveness and tourism are mixing”

With a degree in economics and social sciences, Christophe Alaux directs theIMPGT of Aix-Marseille University. Since 2015, he has been the director of the “attractiveness and new territorial marketing” chair, whose steering committee brings together around thirty French local authorities. With them, Christophe Alaux is working on the evolution of territorial marketing to “set out the fundamental principles that will make it possible to achieve the goal of balanced attractiveness for each territory”.

This year, the chair published a manifesto which aims to distinguish territorial marketing from promotion and public communication approaches, or even from commercial and brand marketing approaches. The objective is to define the contours of this specialty borrowed from the private sector, which sometimes errs due to a lack of professionalism… or a lack of ideas. Lastly, the chair has organized the Place Marketing Forum every year since 2013, an annual international meeting of decision-makers concerned with issues of territorial attractiveness to present, exchange and reward the best practices of territorial marketing and attractiveness in the world.

With the health crisis, attractiveness and tourism strategies have merged in the territories. By addressing French tourists better and more, local authorities have made their approach more professional in order to set up procedures adapted to the public they wish to attract. Even, sometimes, to repel them!

Has the health crisis changed the tourism marketing strategies of local authorities?

A phenomenon of expanding tourism to attractiveness was already underway, the health crisis has accelerated it. Rather ill-defined, the “tourism” competence is claimed by the different levels of communities, under different meanings: it encompasses investment in infrastructure as well as housing or economic development. Depending on the territories, their specificities or their dynamism, there are interesting initiatives at different scales.

But health restrictions, particularly on travel, have contributed to developing local tourism and an appetite among citizens for stays in their region. This movement leads operators to orient their marketing strategies towards these audiences in search of authenticity. In this context, we are witnessing in particular an increase in the skills of municipal or inter-municipal tourist offices, which are developing campaigns to highlight their assets, both for local tourists and for their inhabitants.

This is where attractiveness and tourism come together: showing residents that they can discover interesting sites or activities near their homes is an important issue in improving their quality of life. It is the same when we contact neighbors of intercommunalities or departments who, if they are seduced, can decide to move. Territorial cohesion work is more important in France than in other countries.

Who are these new tourism strategies aimed at?

Rural areas have understood that three quarters of the country’s tourists are French and that it is much easier and cheaper to contact them than to try to attract international tourists! We may be coming to the end of the bets placed on poorly known, poorly identified tourist targets, which often end up on 4×3 displays in the Paris metro… This new positioning seems all the more obvious since the figures show that the French have earned money during this crisis and that the possibilities of staying abroad remain limited.

There is a niche that the local is taking over. Territories find themselves attractive, become aware that what they considered to be weaknesses can be transformed into assets to be valued. This is obviously the case of many landlocked countrysides which offer a very sought-after relationship with nature and the land, especially since the services offered outside the towns can be of a good standard.

Are urban dwellers an ideal target for the marketing of rural territories?

Oui, because tourism and attractiveness come together to enhance the assets of the territories: the rural terroir put forward to attract tourists is used to demonstrate the quality of life that a territory can offer to active people. The Lot department, for example, values ​​both its skilled aeronautical jobs and the life
in the open air. Territorial marketing is surfing on this desire for space, which manifested itself loudly during the health crisis.

That said, we talk a lot about urban exodus but, for the moment, the phenomenon is not quantified. Between 2011 and 2014, residential mobility remained stable, around 11% of the French population. And 74% of people who move stay in their department. While real estate agents are seeing the number of city dwellers interested in a secondary or mixed residence grow, development projects in rural areas remain limited. We must be wary of the biases of over-representation!

Overcrowding sometimes threatens! What does “demarketing” consist of, to which local authorities have resorted?

This practice concerns a handful of territories. Demarketing has emerged in European metropolises, where tourists come en masse to visit the same attraction. They then try to define a strategy to “preserve the resource”, that is to say, to maintain a tourist attraction, while taking better account of the inhabitants. This summer, we saw French natural parks adopt this practice to limit the frequentation of sites which until then had only been visited by nature lovers experienced in the uses of these fragile spaces. The Calanques National Park has been a great success. To contain the phenomenon, its administration showed photos of its crowded beaches and its reception agents encouraged tourists to visit other nearby sites, less exposed. Partnerships have also been entered into with driving assistance operators, for example, who encourage people to avoid the busiest slots and discover other places.

Demarketing should make it possible to regulate the flow of tourists at the same time as allowing surrounding sites to gain visitors, but it is not always sufficient… When these tools do not work, in particular because they are not powerful enough to To appease the inhabitants of these overexposed sites, the public authorities are turning to coercive instruments: restriction of access, quotas, etc. And there we go beyond the framework of demarketing!

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