Welcome One and All to the First Lab of Tourism in the World
Paris is cold and drizzly and dead. It doesn’t sound appealing, does it? But it’s Paris in August — the reason that the Parisians head to the beaches as I did the last two weeks.
This Friday, August 15th is “Assomption de Marie” (or “Assumption of Mary”), a Roman Catholic holiday celebrating the day when the body of the Virgin Mary was taken into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. That means Paris is even deader. It’s a double whammy — a holiday with everything closed and the entire Parisian world at the beach. It’s the only day of the year I once agreed to ride a “Vélib'” public bike on the streets of Paris as it’s one of the few days you can cross rue de Rivoli without looking — there are simply no cars or other traffic to speak of.
Many emails I’m sending out are returning vacation auto-responders except for one hard-working Parisian who could be the most enthusiastic, energetic, free-thinking, industrious civil servant I know in France: Laurent Queige, the “Délégué Général Coordination du Programme, Partenariats,” of the “Welcome City Lab.”
The “incubator” devoted to new start-ups in the tourism industry was all his idea while in his position as Assistant to Jean-Bernard Bros, who was the Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of Tourism under the past Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë. They all laughed and rejected the idea at first, but with persistence, he managed to win them over and be the first in the world (!) to create such an entity. Then he found a big, beautiful space in the heart of the 6th district on rue de Rennes in which to run the “lab” and got his team installed there just a couple months ago.
Rue de Rennes was as trafficless as rue de Rivoli, but he, much of his team and several of the new start-ups were busy working away there yesterday, in spite of the dead August day. Laurent ‘bounced’ out of his chair to greet me and couldn’t wait to tell me how, as a result of his idea, cities around the world are hammering at him to assist them in doing the same! The rooms in the facility are named after major cities in honor of those who are following in his lead.
The “incubator” is part of a larger program for the entire region: “Paris Region Lab,” but this is the first one designated to supporting inventors with a vision on the future of tourism. With the financial support of several large companies with an interest in tourism, such as Air France, Amadeus, Groupe Galeries Lafayette, Skyboard, Sodexo, VIParis and BPIFrance and the Aeroports de Paris, the Welcome City Lab was able to be launched.
Twenty start-ups were selected from hundreds that submitted applications. Making the decisions as to which were accepted was akin to an ivy league university’s role in selecting student applicants…very tough to weed out the best of the lot! I had a chance to meet a few of those working yesterday at the lab and hear a bit about their projects. The innovators are not-at-all all French — “au contraire!” Americans, Canadians, Italians…it is a mix of nationalities who have a love affair with Paris who want to be a part of this…and yes, they are YOUNG!
They are young, enthusiastic, energetic, free-thinking and industrious, much like Laurent Queige…and perhaps still a bit naive about the trials and tribulations of doing business in France. Laurent joked that it was ‘his job’ to “protect them from the ills of French bureaucracy!”
Among them are such smart concepts as “Parisianist,” claiming “We Know Paris” with a fresh look at exploring the City of Light. There was a group of young guys lined up at computers working on BNBSitter, a concierge and housekeeping service designed to assist individual owners offering their apartments as short-term rentals (hence the ‘take-off’ on the name “BNB”). “MSS,” “My Super Souvenir,” was there with a new idea to offer visitors to Paris an innovative way of remembering their good times by merging their photos with their experiences electronically.
These are just a few, but all are about bringing tourism into the digital world and thinking futuristically so as not only keep up, but to stay ahead of the game. They all have Laurent to thank.
The Welcome City Lab will be officially inaugurated on September 9th and fortunately, Laurent Queige, once known to you all as “my little birdie at the City Hall,” has invited me. Don’t worry, you’ll be sure to hear all about it!
For more information, view their PowerPoint presentation in English.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris & The Adrian Leeds Group
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