Champagne embarks on major tourism driveBy Patrick Schmitt
The region of Champagne has begun a tourism drive with €0.5m worth of annual promotional funding, a new website, and a special slogan.
Announced yesterday to UK press at the London-based residence of the French ambassador to the UK was a fresh push from Champagne to encourage more people to visit and explore the region using a tourism brand, ‘La Champagne, refined art de vivre’, and a website visitlachampagne.travel.
Having launched this concept and associated digital tools, the drinks business was also told that the region has raised as much as €500,000 for an annual marketing drive, initially in the UK and Japan, to draw attention to Champagne’s cellars, gastronomy, architecture, history and events.
The new push has been a long time in the making, admitted Vincent Perrin, who is head of the Comité Champagne, during an exclusive interview with db at the launch event in London yesterday.
Having started the process following the decision by UNESCO to make Champagne’s ‘hillsides, houses and cellars’ a World Heritage Site in 2014, he told db that the launch of the website and slogan had taken almost five years, with the financing of the marketing proving notably complicated – the promotional funds came from the regional government, as well as the Comité Champagne and tourist boards of the Grand Est Region where Champagne is located.
But the efforts have been worthwhile, with Perrin expressing his desire for Brits in particular – who represent 31% of the visitor numbers to Champagne each year – to fully explore the region.
With many of them coming to see the remarkable Gothic cathedral in Reims, or visit the First World War cemeteries in the region, he told db that “they have a nice experience, but feel that they have missed something.”
However, with the new Champagne travel website, which offers a series of “experiences”, he said, “Now we have given them a reason to come back”.
Also present at the launch event in London yesterday were the two presidents of the Comité Champagne, Jean-Marie Barillère – who represents the interests of the houses – and Maxime Toubart, who represents the growers.
Speaking first, Toubart stressed the need for the producers of Champagne to promote the source region by attracting visitors from abroad, and did this through subtle semantics.
“It is important to recognise the region of Champagne… there is Le Champagne and there is La Champagne,” he said, adding, “We want to make the link between the product of Champagne and the region of Champagne, with its terroir and savoir-faire.”
Following Toubart, Barillère further explained the reasons for the tourism drive and the London launch, noting that while Champagne is extremely famous, the region is not well known as a tourist destination.
“This is a very special day for us because it is a link between the product Champagne and the region Champagne,” he began.
Continuing, he said, “Champagne is so well known, everyone knows about it, but what we want to achieve is for people to spend more time in Champagne, and to enjoy it more… We want people to have a good experience from the wine, and a good experience from the region – the architecture, the history, the cuisine.”
He then added, “We want people to have an experience that is as good as they have when they are drinking Champagne, because everyone is smiling when they are drinking Champagne.”
As for the decision to launch the initiative in London, he said, “You are our first market, and it is people from England, and Belgium, that are the two major sources of visitors to the region.”
Concluding, he said, “We want you to discover all the atmosphere of Champagne.”
In a subsequent discussion, Barillère told db that Bordeaux was the most visited wine region in France, although Champagne is not far behind, with just 1% fewer visitors.
Furthermore, he stressed that Champagne producers and other actors in the region have invested extensively in hospitality over the last 10 years, whether this concerns new hotels and restaurants, or oenotourism by the houses.
Certainly this year’s Champagne Report by the drinks business has a special focus on the rise of tourism in the region, and considers how the producers have augmented the appeal of the appellation for visitors.
Finally, in an important move for travellers to Reims, a representative from Marriot hotels at the London event yesterday confirmed that the upmarket brand of hotels would be opening the doors to a new property in Reims next month.
Directly opposite the cathedral, the building was formerly a fire station and has been reconfigured as a 50-room, five-star hotel, providing an important fillip to accommodation in the city.
The biggest visitor attractions in the Champagne region, according to Vincent Perrin are:
- Reims Cathedral: 1m visitors each year
- Nigloland Amusement Park in the Aube: 500,000 visitors each year
- Avenue de Champagne in Epernay: 250,000 visitors each year
- Pommery’s cellars in Reims: 180,000 visitors each year
- Taittinger’s cellars in Reims: 100,000 visitors each year