Atout France Rises to the Occasion

Five days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, a luncheon in Washington, D.C., reaffirms the power of travel, meetings, and life going on.

The town of Millau in the Mid-Pyrénées region of France.

Nothing beats face-to-face, as we’re fond of saying in the meetings industry. That’s never more true than after a disaster or other horrific event — such as the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris — when you feel helpless, and all you really want to do is reassure yourself that people are okay and let them know they have your support and love. As it happened, I was scheduled to attend a media luncheon hosted by Atout France, the French national tourism agency, in Washington, D.C., last week, just five days after the attacks. It would have been completely understandable had Atout France decided to cancel, but they went ahead with the program, and I was very glad they did.

Our job is to continue living our lives as we choose, and one of these choices is travel.

Held at Sequoia restaurant in Washington Harbour, right on the Georgetown waterfront, the luncheon featured representatives from Normandy, on the northern coast of France; Midi-Pyrénées, in the south; the Caribbean island of Martinique, a French department; and Rail Europe, which criss-crosses France. At the start of the quietly gracious event, Anne-Laure Tuncer, Atout France’s USA director, took the podium and began by saying she’d thrown away the original remarks she’d prepared.

It wasn’t an easy decision for Atout France to go ahead with the luncheon, but in the end there had been no choice. “When it came down to it, we knew we had to rise up to the occasion and send the right message,” Tuncer said. “Our job is to continue living our lives as we choose, and one of these choices is travel.”

She was echoed by Philippe Guérin, president of the Midi-Pyrénées Regional Tourism Board, who spoke about how moved he was, upon walking around Washington, D.C., to see flags flying at half mast at the White House in recognition of the lives lost in Paris. “[Terrorists] want to try to defeat France. They cannot succeed,” Guérin said. “We want to share our way of life, and not let terrorism win. Life must go on.”

And go on it did, for a few lovely hours last week, over delicious food and excellent company, and the bonds that come from sharing both.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso is executive editor of Convene.