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View of La Rochelle harbour
As summer vacation approaches and lockdown measures are lifted, many of us are feeling a familiar yearning. The sea, the mountains, the countryside: we hope to rediscover our favourite destinations, or else to set off on a new adventure.

After an extremely difficult year and a half, tourism professionals are preparing for the return of customers - but they still need our support. Crédit Agricole is taking concrete actions, such as the launch of the TourismeByCA platform, which use new methods to continue the Group’s historic efforts to promote local tourism.

More than 60 years of support

The Agricultural Act of 5 August 1960 stipulates that particular incentives could be given in certain regions, defined as “special rural action zones”, whose economic development was hampered by a lack of infrastructure, over- or under-population, and the exodus of rural inhabitants. This is where Crédit Agricole’s actions to promote tourism started: its financing of infrastructure in rural areas included sport and tourism infrastructure.

This assistance for rural populations was strengthened by the Rurality Act of 1971: Crédit Agricole was called on to lead initiatives that would facilitate tourism in rural areas, such as the development of cultural, leisure, sport or natural preservation infrastructures. The regional banks seized these new opportunities to develop the potential for tourism in their regions.

Providing resources and boosting visibility: Crédit Agricole’s presence at both ends of the chain

The regional banks financed all types of tourism programmes, whether they were implemented by public or private entities (bodies of water, ski lifts, vacation villages, etc.) or by individuals (rural cottages, campgrounds.). The latter were mainly cooperative shareholders, often farmers, who earned substantial additional revenues by building cottages. Tourism lodging has, moreover, been one of Crédit Agricole’s key areas of intervention: in 1977, 36 million francs in loans were granted to finance rural cottages built by farmers or residents of rural areas, accounting for 70% of all loans granted to finance tourist lodging.

This effort to develop infrastructure was enhanced by a major communication initiative by Crédit Agricole to boost the visibility of these new tourist destinations. We can affirm that the Group occupied a unique position in the field while continuing its mission of supporting the development of rural areas. From 1975, it also published the Guide des loisirs ruraux, which was distributed for free to the 8,000 offices in its network. Written for “young people seeking new adventures, it offers enriching destinations, off the beaten path, in the heart of French regions and their often-little-known resources [...]. Those who want to participate in agricultural, artisanal or scientific activities, to experience village life, to seek human contact or solitude, a place to be alone or to simply find peace of mind should read this book. It tells them where they can learn woodworking, ironworking, weaving or pottery.

Short films made on commission by Gaumont were played in cinemas to promote this Guide. Here is one that immerses us in the popular “back to the Earth” ambiance of the era:

Crédit Agricole went further than communications campaigns, however, by developing its own travel agency.

The “Voyage-Conseil” experience

In 1971, the decisive year for Crédit Agricole’s development, Voyage-Conseil was born. At that time, the Group was starting to create non-banking subsidiaries with the aim of providing new services to its member shareholders. The idea of a travel agency had been in the air for a while before the Puy-de-Dôme regional bank acquired the largest one in Clermont- Ferrand. This was the foundation of the subsidiary Voyage-Conseil, whose capital was held by the Caisse nationale and by the regional banks.

The growth was dramatic: from 30,000 clients in 1973, the bank grew to 365,000 in 1978

From 1974, the agency ranked fourth place as a travel manufacturer and third as a distributor. Branches were gradually opened in the regional banks, which used this resource to boost local activity.

If we’ve rightly said that Crédit Agricole democratised banking, we can say today in all honesty that Voyage Conseil democratised travel.
General meeting of the CNCA, 18 June 1975

It is worth noting that the positioning of this subsidiary was also very original. It aimed simply to “help rural people discover the world and city-dwelling people to discover French natural treasures”. To this end, it developed travel formulas specifically adapted to the desires of rural populations: brief, action-packed trips and a “regionalisation” of departures from 32 different airports (in 1974) to allow them to avoid “going up to Paris” to catch their flight. In 1977, three-quarters of the customer base was originally from communes with less than 5,000 habitants. These individuals often went on holiday outside of traditional periods, which contributed to staggering the activity of tourism-rich regions.

Trips were also organised in an original manner, by commune or administrative district. In this way, people from the same place but who didn’t necessarily know each other would go on holiday together. These travels allowed them to renew social bonds that had dissolved. Travelling with people from the same region could also reassure those who were timid or hesitant to embark on this type of journey. This commitment to helping rural populations discover the world truly contributed to the democratisation of travel at a time when rural areas were abandoned by traditional travel agencies.

In addition to its missions in service of individual customers, Voyage-Conseil used its expertise to assist Crédit Agricole in the organisation of General Meetings and for a range of member shareholder business trips. However, growth that was no doubt too rapid and poorly managed, the competition and even jealousy of traditional travel agencies, and a rapidly changing market and expectations in the 1980s prevented Voyage-Conseil from building on its momentum. The subsidiary was sold in 1989. This experience nevertheless positioned Crédit Agricole as a driver of societal transformation at the service of a population that, in its vast majority, discovered new horizons.

Travel guides published by Voyage-Conseil (1980s). 

Identification of a growth driver for Crédit Agricole

This withdrawal from the world of travel agencies did not, however, signal the end of Crédit Agricole’s involvement in the tourism sector. On the contrary, the Group increased its presence in the financing of leisure, hotel and tourism industries. The new 1986 organisational chart of the Caisse nationale even included, among the six markets divisions created, a Tourism Real Estate and Infrastructure division. Gaining ground in financial engineering with an increasing number of projects, Crédit Agricole acquired the status of property developer in 1987, in partnership with Pierre et Vacances Group, for the Val Thorens, Port Crouesty and Port Bourgenay sites. In this way, it confirmed its commitment to regional tourism while participating in large-scale projects such as Eurodisneyland or Aquaboulevard in 1989.

In 1990, the scope of intervention of the Union d’études and d’investissements subsidiary was extended to industry and services sectors, including tourism. The same year, Crédit Agricole created the Uniloisirs investment fund, specialised in tourism and leisure real estate infrastructure projects.

The 2000s saw the Group taking a more prudent approach to the sector, even if, in 2009, tourism still represented 10% of Crédit Agricole’s activity. In 2016, tourism was again identified as a growth driver in the framework of the Ambition Stratégique 2020 medium-term plan. The Group’s sectoral expertise in the field was strengthened in 2018 through new hires at IDIA and Sodica.

These financial initiatives are always accompanied by partnerships with the aim of highlighting regions, as with the Bienvenue à la ferme network in agri-tourism, or Atout France and Terre de vins for wine tourism.

Now, in this unusual year of reopening, at a time when the tourism industry is questioning its models and practices, Crédit Agricole will continue to offer its support as the bank has done for the past 60 years.