“With the crisis, attractiveness and tourism mix”

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

This year, the chair published a manifesto that aims to distinguish territorial marketing from approaches to promotion and public communication, 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 lack of professionalism… or lack of ideas. Finally, the chair organizes the Place Marketing Forum annually since 2013, an annual international meeting of decision makers concerned with issues of territorial attractiveness to present, exchange and reward the best marketing practices and territorial attractiveness in the world.

With the health crisis, attractiveness and tourism strategies merged in the territories. By increasingly targeting French tourists, local authorities have taken a more professional approach to establishing procedures tailored to the public they want to attract. Even, sometimes, to repel them!

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

A phenomenon of expansion from tourism to attractiveness was already underway, the health crisis accelerated it. Very poorly defined, the “tourist” competence is claimed by different levels of communities, under different meanings: it encompasses both investment in infrastructure and housing or economic development. Depending on the territories, their specificities or their dynamism, interesting initiatives arise at different scales.

But health restrictions, particularly on travel, have contributed to developing local tourism and citizens’ appetite 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 competences of the municipal or inter-municipal tourist offices, which are developing campaigns to enhance their added value, both for local tourists and their inhabitants.

This is where attractiveness and tourism come together: showing residents that they can discover interesting places or activities close to their homes is an important issue to improve their quality of life. It’s the same when we contact the neighbors of the intercommunities or departments who, if seduced, may 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 realized 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 reaching the end of the bets made in little-known, poorly identified tourist destinations, which often end up on the 4×3 displays of the Paris metro… This new positioning seems all the more obvious as the numbers show that the French won money during this crisis and that the possibilities to stay abroad remain limited.

There is a niche that the site is taking over. The territories feel attractive, they are aware that what they considered weaknesses can be transformed into assets to be valued. This is, of course, the case for many landlocked camps that offer a much sought after relationship with nature and the land, especially as the services offered outside the cities can be of good quality.

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

THEui, because tourism and attractiveness come together to enhance the riches of the territories: the rural terroir proposed to attract tourists is used to demonstrate the quality of life that a territory can offer to active people. The Batch department, for example, values ​​its skilled aeronautical jobs as much as the
outdoors. Territorial marketing is riding on this desire for space, which manifested itself noisily during the health crisis.

That said, we talk a lot about urban exodus but, for now, 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 prejudices of over-representation!

Overcrowding sometimes threatens! What is the “demarketing” used by local authorities?

This practice concerns a handful of territories. Demarketing emerged in European metropolises, where tourists come in droves to visit the same attraction. They then seek to define a strategy to “preserve the resource”, that is, to maintain a tourist attraction, taking better account of the inhabitants. This summer, we saw French natural parks adopt this practice to limit the number of visits to places that until then were only visited by nature lovers experienced in the use of these fragile spaces. The Calanques National Park has been a great success. To contain the phenomenon, its administration showed pictures of its crowded beaches and its reception agents encouraged tourists to visit other, less exposed, nearby places. Partnerships were also signed with driving assistance operators, for example, which encourage people to avoid the busiest hours and visit other places.

Demarketing must allow to regulate the flow of tourists while allowing the surrounding places to gain visitors, but it is not always enough… When these tools do not work, namely because they are not powerful enough to appease the inhabitants of these overexposed places, the government is resorting to coercive instruments: access restriction, quotas, etc. And then we go beyond the framework of demarketing!

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