No drop seen in number of visa applications, says French ambassador Francois Richier

France and India have been all-weather allies. The bilateral ties between the two are only going to deepen from here on, feels His Excellency Francois Richier. Speaking exclusively to TF, he shared his deep commitment towards PM Modi’s pet projects. He also believes that it was time for the wider Indian tourism fraternity to enhance its outreach into the French market, highlighting destinations that are yet to catch the attention of discerning French travelers.

Need to market new destinations to French inbound; committed towards key govt. initiatives, says French ambassador1 “We will have to see what the impact of it is by the next year. Frankly, I have not noted any drop in the visa applications as of yet,” responded the Ambassador when asked whether the dastardly attacks on the French capital had an immediate impact on the Indian outbound. Saying that India was a country that had its brushes with terrorism, he noted that, “They also come from a country that knows what terrorism is; it does not happen every day, but time to time. So, I am confident that the influx will remain intact.” However, he did agree that there were certain countries that could be more sceptical than others. “But, speaking for the Indian market, there is no such thing,” he asserted.

Sharing that tourism remained an important asset for French economy, he explains that “We received over eight-four million tourists last year – which is a lot more than our total population. So, we are used to having a lot guests. We know its importance for the economy and its contribution towards increasing interface with foreign cultures for our people.”

Further noting that there was no lurking fear or suspicion in the minds of the local population about foreigners, he quipped that, “It is true that French are a little grumpy, but we are grumpier at each-other than at our guests.”

He also informed us that France was still issuing the same number of visas as before. “There is no restriction of any kind as far as visiting France is concerned.  We issue a visa in 48 hours – provided the documents are in order,” added the ambassador.

Coming down hard on terrorism and signalling France’s resolute response in tackling its menace, he said that the most befitting reply to terrorists lied in disowning terrorism. “You must show the world that you are not afraid and that you are a part of those who take up the ideal of freedom. If people outside your country believe that you are not a strong nation then they will be afraid; whereas, if you visit a country which is perceived to be strong, then you have no reason to be scared,” asserted the seasoned diplomat.  “Secondly, it must be ensured that whatever your hardships, you define your culture and way of life. This is why despite whatever had happened, we continued with hosting the Climate Change Conference – PM Modi was there,” he said.  Informing that France was going to continue with its scheduled regional elections immediately after the Climate Change meet, he noted that, “Terrorism must not stop democracy and diplomacy, and of course it should not stop tourism.”

Sounding extremely positive about the future of India-France bilateral ties, he told us that he intended to have more collaborations in the fields of education, skill development and clean energy. This was apart from escalating the level of engagements in already established areas like defense and culture – which was also doing very well. “We also need to move into areas like science and technology; we have a number of projects that are going on. We are working on programs like bio-technology centers and energy storage,” he shared with us.  “We have been working on it since the last year and it has moved since the PM’s visit to France. My endeavor, now, is to make it happen in the months to come,” he added.

Noting that PM pet projects like ‘Skill India’, ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ were going to have a profound impact, not only, on the deepening of bilateral ties, but also on accentuating the movement of goods and services leading to more movement of people. Assuring us that they were working very hard on helping India realize its goals, he observed that, “We have to now ensure that this momentum sustains. I give you a very recent example. Only yesterday a contract between Indian Railways and a French company was signed for manufacturing 800 railway locomotives in Bihar.” Detailing that it was a huge contract which was to last for many years, he says, “It is all ‘Make in India’ in Bihar. The project, itself, was launched almost a decade ago and many were saying that it is never going to happen and so on. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu took the lead and made it happen.”

He adds that, “they have already started working in Bihar and it is going to happen; probably with GE as two key partners of India in locomotive manufacturers, we will take this forward. So it is, both, ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’”, noted the French ambassador.

When asked about ways to improve French footfalls on the Indian shores, he admitted that India had a very limited number of foreign tourists.  “The numbers are very low, somewhere around eight million. French tourists are mostly going to Delhi, Rajasthan – which is their favorite destination – and also in the south to Pondicherry (Puducherry) and now Kerala,” we were told.  Showing a way forward, he opined that the key to more footfalls lied in marketing destinations that have not yet come onto the French tourist’s radar. “It will be great if the Indian tourism sector is advertizing other regions, because French know south and western Indian very well. They are a little shy, may be, to go to other regions. So, if they discover treasures in other regions, it will work very well for the tourism fraternity here,” he explained.

Sharing his experience of Indian tourism products and destinations, he told us he was recently in Gujarat, in the Rann of Kutch. “There is a gentleman who runs a well-settled camp in the desert. So, you can go and experience the desert, animals and raising horses; it was very beautiful. It started a couple of years ago and the owner decided to target the French market, and now French constitute seventy percent of his clientele,” he divulged.   “By managing prices very intelligently, he even has visitors in May and June – when the temperature literally clocks high fifties. So, if marketed well, it can work and French tourists are very enthusiastic about it. All it took was a little marketing and outreach, it worked automatically,” notes the top diplomat.

“Most of the French do not travel the whole of India in groups. They generally travel in very small families or small circle of friends. They prefer to have their individual journey,” he adds.

He had another experience to share. He tells us that it was during one of his visit to the Asia’s largest cattle fair in Bihar, he got to know that many French tourists had been visiting it.  “They have a book in which they register each and every foreign traveler’s data – and there are not many. I enquired from the authorities there about the number of French citizens and I was told that they were almost forty percent of the total foreign guests,” he shared. “They come in small groups, but it shows how French are ready to go to places where there is very limited tourism, like in Bihar. So, promoting unexplored destinations on a larger scale will yield very good results,” he substantiated.

Noting that France was already on to a number of projects in the realm of skill development in India, he said that, “There are four to five hundred very big French companies which have invested in India; some of them are major firms. I am trying to understand the amount of education and skill development programs that they have invested into over the last few years and also see that they continue to do it; it is huge.”

Further explaining his point, he shared that Schneider Electric had a program under which they have already trained over 30,000 Indians, giving them requisite skills pertaining to electricity management. “It will ensure that you have a person in each village who knows how to handle, maintain and repair electrical systems. As India looks to develop more solar based electricity, and reach into villages that have not had electricity before, it will also need people to maintain them,” he detailed.  “We will continue to engage in programs like these and it shows what we can achieve together,” concluded the ambassador.

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