Tootlafrance talks to Matt Carr – France Montagnes‘ new press officer for both UK and Ireland and the first Anglophone in the job
“I started this job just over a year ago,” explains the 26-year-old. “I work for France Montagnes; which is an agency that takes care of all of the mountain resorts in France, both in the domestic French market and overseas.
“Previously that was being done by Atout France (the France Tourism Development Agency) but they decided that the British and Irish markets were important enough to set up a dedicated person working at the French tourist office.”
Matt’s job, therefore, is to encourage Irish and British people to explore all that France has to offer by way of its multiple mountain resorts both in winter and in summer.
France is Europe’s leading country for ski resorts, with a top-quality product and the highest statistics for the number of resorts, the largest resorts and total kilometres of ski runs in Europe. The high mountains in the Alps also ensures that they have considerably longer seasons than their nearest rivals Austria.
Considering the small size of the Irish market and the fact that we share a language, it’s no surprise that the UK and Ireland are treated as one when it comes to selling France as a destination, but it’s a market that is the largest foreign segment:
“The British and Irish market is the largest one after the French market,” confirms Matt, who ended up in his current role by a logical if slightly circuitous route:
“I had spent about 3 years in various capacities in a number of resorts in France – principally in Val d’Isère but in one or two others as well, mainly as a season worker.”
With the background in ski stations and fluent French, he was a prime candidate for the new post when he moved back to London towards the end of 2013. But the young Englishman has some bona fide Irish credentials too:
“My granny used to live down in Co Kerry for about half the year… she lived in Waterville on the tip of the Ring of Kerry; which is a lovely part of the world. So it was there that I started surfing and I also lived for a couple of years down near Biarritz, which is like THE surfing centre of France… the surfing centre of Europe, probably. But being outdoors – whether it’s at the beach or up in the mountains – is very much my bag!”
The French mountains cover quite a lot of territory, from the various ranges along the country’s eastern border to the long Pyrenean range on the Spanish border and the Massif Central in the middle of France. Has he managed to explore them all yet?“Not quite,” he laughs. “When I was based down in the South-west, we used to go up to ski in the Pyrenees quite a lot. We used to visit Saint Lary quite a bit and one or two other resorts in that area, all of which are really nice. Up to that point, I’d spent most of my skiing time in the French Alps. They tend to be some of the biggest and most well-connected ski resorts in the world. What’s nice about the Pyrenees, in contrast, is that they tend to be unspoilt and in the last 3 or 4 years, they’ve had some of the best snow in Europe. So it’s quite nice driving up through these villages and getting the impression that they’ve been unaffected by the passage of time.
“There’s skiing in the Massif Central too, as well as in the Jura and the Vosges Mountains, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to go skiing there.”
Many of the latter areas will have a lot more going in in terms of cross-country skiing ski-related activities outside of the downhill skiing, offering a bewildering variety of skiing activities in the country.
“Whilst there are plenty of other countries around the world that have fantastic skiing, what distinguishes France is having 5 distinct mountain ranges, which are all really different.
“In some countries a lot of the resorts are quite similar – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is an easy approach from a marketing point of view. In countries like Norway and Switzerland, for example, the tourism authorities find it a little easier when it comes to collective marketing because they can all work together because the destinations are all relatively similar, whereas in France it’s a little harder to do that because of the diversity of resorts. It can be a little more challenging to promote France as a ski destination.”
Amen to diversity! You can check out the diversity of France’s mountain resort offer by clicking on their especially-dedicated website www.france-montagnes.com.