Interview with Christian Blondeau, Founder & Director
How would you concretely describe the core activity of France at Leisure?
France at Leisure is a boutique travel agency offering a professional and personal service to Australians planning their trip to France. We offer what a brochure or even the internet cannot offer! Our team members, mostly of French origin have travelled extensively throughout France and can combine this experience with a large network of local licensed service providers to help you discover all this rich country has to offer in history, tradition and beauty. We know the French capital very well, the back roads, the gourmet restaurants, the exclusive sites not to miss, the historic monuments, and all the practical things that will help make your trip safe and unforgettable! Organising your holidays with France at Leisure is like taking an insurance cover on a great French travel experience without the extra cost.
Considering the time you have available, your past travel experience and your budget, we aim to provide the best travel products available in France and assist you in tailoring a unique personalised itinerary to match your expectations. Personal advice and quality are everything to us. All our products are accredited by Atout France, the French Tourism Bureau, and we are proud to say that 40% of our customers are repeat customers. Here is a sample of products we offer to our clients:
• Paris apartment rental centrally located and fully furnished for families or groups of friends;
• Chateaux stay all over the French countryside, affordable for everyone;
• Rental boat self-cruising program;
• Luxury Canal barge cruising;
• Anzac Touring in the Somme all year around including ANZAC DAY dawn service;
• Car leasing for 3 weeks to up to 6 months – brand new car tax free – fully insured;
• Small group themed excursions like wine – history – and educational tour all over France.
France at Leisure is also fully licensed with AFTA & ATAS, a member of HELLOWORLD AMERICAN EXPRESS.
Can you tell us about your personal background, the history of France at Leisure and your role as Director?
I was born and raised in the south-west of France near Biarritz. I spent the first 20 years of my career in the hospitality industry working in 4 and 5-star international hotel groups such as Hilton, Inter-Continental, Sheraton and Beaufort Chain. After various Food & Beverage management positions, in France, the UK and Greece, I came to Australia for the launch of the Heritage Hotel (now Stamford) in Brisbane. As an expat, I should have moved on after a few years, but I happened to have fallen in love both with Australia and my wife Lisa, and decided to stay. It was a risky decision to take, but I saw an opportunity to offer a French Travel Specialist service for Australian travellers wanting to explore Paris and France.
In 2002, following in my wife’s footstep, who had her own travel agency, I founded France at Leisure, with the ambition of becoming a French travel specialist in order to be the best and not be in competition with generalist travel agencies. My advantage was a background in hospitality as well as 6 years of experience in Australia. I knew the market and the local business practices and three years later, France at Leisure had 10 staff! Our growth has been phenomenal, partially thanks to the 2007 Rugby World Cup for which we became official agent and sold 1.8 million worth of tickets! We now provide our services to approximately 600 travellers per year.
My position within France at Leisure is very much ‘hands-on’ with a direct contact with all new clients to evaluate their wants and needs. I work closely with my team of French travel experts – now down to 4 permanent staff thanks to the new technologies - to take care of all travel arrangements. As a guest of the French Tourism Bureau, I travel every year to France to attend the world largest French Travel Expo. At this show, I reinforce and renegotiate my partnerships with our service providers. I take this opportunity also to research new products that Australians might be keen to experience. This includes language and cooking classes, new charming accommodation options and touring. All year long, I also look after the marketing activities of the business including sponsorship and French travel seminar presentations, and other opportunities that may present themselves.
How do you envisage the future of your company and how can FACCI help you achieve your objective?
Nowadays, the internet is a threat to the travel agent business and I feel for the traditional travel agencies offering generic travel services. These agents offer the entire world and therefore are not able to offer a true knowledge of every destination. On the contrary, our strength is to be specialised and to offer an in depth knowledge of France. Thanks to our ability to develop local partnerships and to continuously provide new original products, we are less vulnerable. In the short term, I want to develop cross-country skiing or cycling adventure tours to enable travellers to go deeper in the country. We are very confident that France at Leisure will survive for many years to come offering a true and unique French travel service, backed up with a passionate level of service.
Another aspect of the business that I wish to focus on in the future is our corporate offer, which includes incentive programs and conference organisation with our Events at Leisure branch. Once again, our offer is tailored according to our client’s needs. We are creative and innovative and go far beyond the basics in order to deliver a unique experience.
FACCI is an obvious partner when it comes to relay the message to the business community. We look forward to welcoming members of the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce and to helping them with their travel arrangements to France. FACCI’s members will receive many advantages and attractive rates on accommodation, flights, cruising, car leasing and travel insurance.
Interview conducted by Claire Dupré and Camille Martin on 21 January 2016.
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