At the end of her tenure as director, Atout France in India, Catherine Oden, says `Merci’ to India and shares her thoughts on what the six years meant to her. By Reema Lokesh
1) As you are leaving India to get into a new region which is equally dynamic that is China, what are the impressions that you take back with you of the country and its people?
The past six years have been extremely enriching. Despite the challenges I faced over the years, the one striking feature that will remain with me is the people of India. Extremely warm, generous, fun loving, excitable, they enhanced the spice quotient of my life. I shall cherish fond memories of my travels throughout the country and all the people of different cultures I met. I had the pleasure of opening the first office in 2002 and when I returned in 2009, there was already a change in the economy, the liberalisation and the mindset. I hope to return sometime in the future (I am sure by then India would have broadened her horizons and achieved great progress), her people will still remain as warm and welcoming as before.
2) What is your take on the Indian travel fraternity and its awareness on the French region?
Till recent times, the imposition of biometrics levied by France largely limited the focus of the Indian travel industry to promoting Paris. The mandate of compulsory biometric procedures had a severe impact on the number of bed-nights allotted to France. However since the suspension of biometrics in July 2013, special measures taken by the French Embassy and the network of Consular Services in India has allowed the travel fraternity to increase their scope of programming France and of including newer destinations which are slowly gaining popularity. Personalised sales visits to travel agencies presenting them with different options combined with a strong communication campaign under the banner “Be There! Do That! enabled us to achieve an incredible increase in programmation of our destination. The 48h visa deliverance policy and one window possibility for large groups resulted in an accelerated number of travellers and incentive groups to France.
3) Was it mission accomplished for you, or was there something that was left to implement?
To a large extent it was mission accomplished but I am sure I could have done much more should the circumstances have been different. We have successfully launched campaigns such as Romantic France, France Celebrates India and “Be There ! Do That !” campaigns which would not have been as successful without the great collaboration of companies such as Air France, VFS Global, the network of tour operators and our special communication partner JCDecaux. At the eve of my departure, I would like to thank the entire travel and press fraternity for their support and encouragement. One of our deepest wishes would have been to position France as a family destination as it is a true heaven for that but of course, I should leave some challenges to my successor.
4) What is your one very strong take home from India? Something that made an impression both personally and professionally?
I came to India from Japan that took great pride in meticulously planning a campaign or an event several months in advance. In India, what you need is the precious last five minutes. This exercise has kept me on my toes and prevented me from “sleeping” in the literal sense of the word but the end results were worth it.
5) Is there a recommendation or advise you wish to leave for your successor?
I have been blessed with a team which is cohesive, enthusiastic and willing to go the extra mile. Without good team work, there can be no success. It’s all about achieving collaborative synergies.