How tourism is making a business out of big business

Visitors to the Airbus facility see an A380-AK being built
Visitors can take a tour of the Airbus facilities

If you're looking for somewhere to go this weekend, you could do worse than seek out a factory that's open to visitors. There are 2,500 business attractions in France alone - and tourism boss Cécile Pierre is determined to make them must-visit venues

Finding out just how things are Made in France is a growing tourism sector and more businesses are opening their doors to welcome visitors.

The Association de la Visite d’Entreprise (AVE) was created in 2012 to co-ordinate and promote visits to a wide variety of businesses throughout France.  There are 2,500 business attractions on the organisation's books.  Their website has just been translated into English to attract foreign visitors and the travel guide Routard has just published Le Guide de la Visite d’Entreprise, which lists 450 of them.

The choice of venues ranges from traditional crafts such as pottery, food and drink with cheeses, biscuits, sweets , olives, coffee, wines and spirits, to heavy industry including car, boat and plane manufacturers and several EDF sites.

Cécile Pierre, the executive director of the Association de la Visite d'Entreprise
AVE's Cécile Pierre

AVE's executive director Cécile Pierre said she would like to see tourists looking up visits to businesses in their guidebooks in the same way that they hunt out museums and historic buildings when they go on holiday: “The public are interested in finding out how the objects they use in their daily life are made.  

“As the numbers of manufacturing companies declines people have less day to day contact with industry and are eager to find out more. Interestingly, visits to heavy industrial sites are very popular and as they are now relatively rare they have developed an exotic appeal.

“For companies it is a very useful communications exercise. They can develop a real relationship with the public and hopefully find new customers. Industry and business have a negative image particularly in the press, and this is their chance to give out a positive message. Usually the employees talk directly to the visitors who see the human face behind a public name.”

Mrs Pierre says the publication of the Routard guide is an important step forward: “We really want to broaden the appeal of business visits to a wider audience. This will be helped by the fact that Regional Councils are beginning to publish local guides.

“At present, only 10% of visitors are from abroad but we hope to attract more once the English version of our website is online. This was funded in part by the Foreign Ministry, showing the government recognises these visits are very important for showing off the quality and the savoir faire of Made in France.”

FACT FILE

  • There are 13 million visitors a year to 2,500 businesses.
  • 90% are guided tours for security reasons
  • Half are free. For those that are not the average entry price is €5
  • The majority are to be found in Alsace, Normandy, Brittany, Pays de la Loire and PACA.
  • The 5 most popular sectors:
  • Food, wines and spirits: 60%
  • Crafts and trades: 18%
  • Environment and Energy: 10%
  • Fashion and Cosmetics: 7%
  • High Tech: 5%

The most recent visitor figures are for 2014 when the most popular site was glass factory Verrerie de Biot, between Nice and Cannes which had 700,000 visitors.

EDF came second with a total of 430,000 visitors to its different sites. Wine producer

Cave de Gan Jurançon was third with 270,000 visitors, Les Cordeliers, another winemaker at Saint-Emilion in the Gironde, welcomed 250,000 visitors and fifth was the Confiserie des Hautes Vosges, where 200,000 people went to discover how it makes its traditional sweets.  

Here is a small chosen for their diversity and their geographical spread throughout the country.

L’Oulibo olive farm, Bize-Minervois, Aude

Here, you can learn everything about the olive - from planting to milling to transformation into olives to eat, olive oil and other products, such as soap. It is the eighth most-popular visit and the one and a half-hour guided tour is split into seven areas of interest taking visitors through the olive grove and into the mill. You learn about the history of the olive tree from ancient times up until the modern day and at the end you can test the refinement of your palate by tasting different oils and perhaps at last appreciate the difference between a virgin and an extra-virgin oil. Entry: €6 Open: every day except December 25 and January 1. www.loulibo.com  

EDF, sites throughout France

Finding out how our electricity is made is very popular and 430,000 people a year visit the 122 EDF nuclear, coal and hydro-electric power stations sites open to the public, putting it second in the top 10 most-visited businesses in France.

One of the most popular is is Le Bazacle, the Hydroelectric plant at Toulouse, just half a kilometre from the city centre and which has 100,000 visitors a year.  It is still active and supplies 10,000 people.

Visitors discover how water power is harnessed to produce electricity and go into underground passages next to the river, from where they can see the pass for migrating fish through a porthole and once above ground again, they get a fantastic view of the city. Entry: Free. Open: daily, except Monday. bazacle.edf.com  

Usually visits to EDF's nuclear power stations are to a visitor centre outside the main station to avoid security problems. At Tricastin, at Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux in the Drôme, you can choose between a guided or non-guided visit of their information centre, which has interactive panels explaining electricity production. In the school holidays there are free activities for children from 1pm to 5pm.  The interior of most power stations, including nuclear sites can be visited occasionally on EDF Electricity Industry Days for which you have to sign up in advance. Entry: Free Open: all year, Monday-Friday (not Thursday) 1pm-5pm edf.fr/tricastin www.edf.fr  “visitez nos centrales”

Airbus, Blagnac, near Toulouse and Saint-Nazaire

The 700-hectare Airbus site at Blagnac is the biggest aeronautical site in Europe. Here, on average, three aeroplanes - including A380s, A360s, A350s and A320s - are put together each month. There are five visits to choose from: Airbus Découverte,  where you can see the test-flight zones and visit the assembly site; Circuit Panoramique which takes you to every site by bus; Circuit Visite Verte which looks at the ways Airbus is trying to produce 'green' planes; En Famille, aimed at parents and children aged 6-12, and one for School Groups with students looking for career ideas. Entry: €15.50 Open: two or three days a week in term time and every day except Sundays during the school holidays. You must book two days in advance and you must take an identity card or passport on the day of the visit. www.manatour.fr You can also visit Airbus at Saint-Nazaire, which specialises in the assembly of A380s and you can see aeroplanes in different stages of completion. The visit is guided. Entry: €13 Open Wednesdays and Fridays and more frequently during the holidays. Reservation necessary 48h in advance. Identity card or passport required. www.saint-nazaire-tourisme.com

Fragonard 

Fragonard sells around 90% of its perfumes to visitors at its site at Grasse in the Alpes-Maritime, meaning business tourism is an essential part of its business strategy. It is a relatively modern factory founded in 1986 which combines traditional perfume making methods with modern machinery. Visitors see all steps of production including its soap factory and from springtime onwards the visit ends in the flower garden, where examples of the principal blooms used in the Grasse perfume industry are grown: roses, lavender, broom, mock orange and honeysuckle.  Entry: free. Guided visit.  Open every day; mid-February to mid-November and school holidays 9am-6pm mid-November to mid-February 9am-12.30pm and 2pm-6pm. www.fragonard.com

Flavigny-sur-Ozerain

Aniseed sweets are made in the heart of an old Benedictine Abbey at Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in the Côte-d’Or  and it is thought that Anis de Flavigny is is the oldest brand name in France. The same recipe has been used since 1591 and it takes 15 days to make each sweet. You are invited into the sugar coating workshop. Entry: Free. Open: Monday –Friday 9am-11am. Guided visits (in English on request). www.anis-flavigny.com

Odysée-Nature

At Odysée-Nature, Les Aubiers, Deux-Sèvres, you can see for yourself whether the organic and environmentally friendly cosmetics and house cleaning products made there live up to their label.  You visit the laboratories and see how a product is made from A-Z and tour the biomass boiler and wind turbine that power the site. The buildings have been made from eco-friendly materials and the plants grown on the site are organic. Entry: €4 Guided visit. Open: Monday to Thursday 10am-12noon and 1.30pm-4.30pm. www.odyssee-nature.fr

La Manufacture Bohin

Everything has to be made somewhere and at La Manufacture Bohin, Saint-Sulpice-sur-Risle in the Orne you can see how sewing needles and safety-pins have been made at the same factory for 180 years. Some of the machines still in use date from the 19th century. On the ground floor visitors can see machinists at work and upstairs there is a museum which traces the different uses and jobs associated with needles and their history, including sewing, patchwork, sail making and taxidermy as well as the story of metal working in the area. Entry: €8.90 Non-guided visit. Open: March to October 2016. Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays 2pm-6pm.  www.lamanufacturebohin.fr

La Manufacture du Grenat

Craftsman are at work producing fabulous jewellery at the Garnet workshops, La Manufacture du Grenat at Prade in the Pyrénées-Orientales where you can discover all the aspects of working with this stone.  There is a reconstituted mine, a museum and the workshops to visit. Entry: €3 Guided visit(English on request).  Open: Tuesday to Saturday 9-12.30 and 14-19.00. July and August: Monday to Saturday: 9-12.30 and 14-19.30. www.manufacturedugrenat.com  

Aigle International

Rubber boots being manufactured at the Aigle International factory in Vienne, France

Aigle International produces quality wellington boots at its factory at Ingrandes, Vienne, which have been made by hand for the past 160 years. A total 200 master rubber craftsmen make 4,000 pairs of boots every day and it takes each craftsman two years to master the 60 production steps required to make each boot. Each one is individually checked to make sure it is waterproof. There are guided visits but you must reserve in advance and you are asked not to wear open toes shoes for security reasons.  Entry: free. Closed between Christmas and New Year and mid-July to mid-August. Open:  Tuesdays and Thursdays 9.30am-2pm Ring 05 49 02 40 43 to book a visit. www.aigle.com

Maison Fossier

The oldest biscuit factory in France is Maison Fossier in Reims, Marne, which was founded in 1756. Its speciality is its Pink Biscuits which were created early on to hide the rather unpleasant colour which was created when crushed black vanilla pods were added for flavouring. The Biscuit Rose de Reims dates from the 1690s. At this time, bakers were anxious not to waste the heat of their oven after the bread was made and had the idea of creating a special dough, which, after having been cooked once was left in the bread oven where it finished drying. Hence the origin of the word BIS-CUIT (literally, cooked twice).  A film reveals this and other biscuit facts, after which you are shown round the biscuit factory and are even allowed a tasting. €5.50 Guided visit. Open: Monday to Friday 9am, 10am, 11am and 2pm www.fossier.fr

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