France’s two easternmost départements (districts), the Bas-Rhin and the Haut-Rhin, have unified their forces into a single entity called “Collectivité Européenne d’Alsace”.

The new authority is likely to strengthen the image of Alsace abroad, with the virtual ITB Berlin playing a crucial role in showing the world that Alsace tourism has a new dynamic.

The Alsace region is back five years after being merged into a larger entity called “Grand East” which merged ten départements in Eastern France. Alsace, with its two districts was part of the move. But many locals were unsatisfied with this move as they felt their identity had been diluted. It took less than three years to recreate an official entity, the Collectivité Européenne d’Alsace” by merging the administration of the two départements. With a budget of €1.8 billion in 2021, the CEA will have broader competences for public transport, cooperation with Germany and Switzerland, culture but also tourism.

So how will it affect the organisation of “Alsace Destination Tourisme”, the agency in charge of promoting tourism? “It is difficult to tell what will be the first concrete changes in our organisation”, said Fabienne Fessler, head of promotion for German-speaking markets as well as for Central Europe, Italy and Switzerland, adding, “We actually already merged the two tourism departments of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin a couple of years ago. We will continue to work with our colleagues of the Grand East Region. I do not predict big changes but only more opportunities to assess our identity within the Grand East.”

Marketing a priority in neighbouring markets

Fessler will virtually be present during ITB Berlin in March. “To participate in ITB Berlin is important for us, as Germany is of course our number one market. But ITB Berlin also represents the opportunity to be in touch with the rest of the world and particularly with long-haul markets,” she explains.

Marketing and promotion priorities have been affected by the pandemic. “We received additional funds to help Alsace tourism’s recovery. We want to be sure that our region will return to the position it held in world tourism, prior to the virus crisis,” she said.

Promotion will mostly target European markets for this year, in particular German-speaking and French travellers. “We do not give up on overseas markets but it will take more time. We still focus on a future return of American and Asian travellers,” said Fessler.

From a total of 4.34 million foreign overnights in 2019 in Alsace, Germany generated 1.09 million overnights followed by Belgium with 0.45 million and the Netherlands with 0.35 million. Among overseas markets, the USA was number 1 at 0.15 million overnights followed by China with 0.095 million.

Cycling tourism and nature among key 2021 themes

At virtual ITB Berlin, Alsace will present its new themes for 2021. The region will be focusing on nature-linked products, trekking and sport activities in the Vosges mountains. A particular focus will be on cycling activities, from trails along the Rhine River or the Alsace Wine Route to mountain biking in the Vosges.

City tourism and castles will be another focus. Secondary cities which are less crowded could receive more visitors. “We have many little-known urban jewels such as Sélestat or Wissembourg beside traditional destinations such as Strasbourg or Colmar. We are also looking at boosting trans-border circuits with our neighbours. The Upper Rhine Valley association is very active to promote circuits between Southern Alsace, the Black Forest and the great region of Basle in Switzerland,” said Fessler.

Alsace is ready to welcome back travellers. And its new regional identity is set to give tourism professionals, and travellers, renewed confidence.

Photo – top of page: Colmar is among the most popular destinations in Alsace. with its picturesque old town. (Photo: Cleverdis/L Citrinot)

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