Perpignan Lures Tourists with Drama, Culture

Eyes bulge and heads turn as an injured man runs down an alley at full speed, screaming helplessly at the top of his lungs; but no one stops to help him.  Turn the corner and a masked man frantically tries to hide bags of money that he has stolen from the bank across the street.  Later in the evening you find yourself in an old prison where the lights flicker and a woman lets out an earth-shattering scream.

During these incidents no one is frightened; instead people are laughing and learning about the history of Perpignan.  These scenarios are part of a show put together by the Perpignan Office of Tourism and the GérardGérard Theatre Company.  The theater troupe uses dramatics, costumes, comedy and scenarios to teach the audience historical facts about Perpignan as they take a walking tour of the city.

This theatrical tour is one of the many attractions put together by the Perpignan Office of Tourism over the past three years in an effort to change the face of tourism in Perpignan.

We try to develop products that are more cultural and original,” said Audrey Avarello, an official guide who is in charge of tourism development.  “We try to escape from the traditional guided tour to make the heritage and history of Perpignan more fun.” 

Another creative way for tourists to discover the city is by participating in a role-play game available on smartphones.  For those who are not technology savvy, there are many guided tours that teach the history and culture in Perpignan; and for families, there are treasure hunts with questions suitable for adults and children.  If you have an interest in gastronomy, the city offers tastings of local wines, cheeses, fruits, meats and nuts while enjoying local music. 

The Office of Tourism has put these new programs into place to offer tourism that is more cultural and creative, and the efforts appear to be working. According to Avarello, the number of people participating in guided tours rose 66 percent between 2009 and 2010.

“We’ve seen that more and more people come to stay a full day in Perpignan,” Avarello said.  “They want to discover the city.”

Residents have also noticed a change in the tourists who visit Perpignan. 

“There are a lot of Netherlanders and Germans,” said Naomi Cohen, a resident of Perpignan.  “Before it was just English,” added her friend, Alisha Sequeira. 

Both women said they feel the tourism office is doing a good job promoting the city and the new approach to tourism is successful.  “They offer a lot of stuff,” said Cohen.

All of these changes have benefited Perpignan, which currently has about 500,000 tourists per year coming from places such as northern France, England, Belgium and the Netherlands.  From September to June tourists are generally people in their 50s and up or families with small children; more families with school-age children visit in June and July.

An even greater spike in Perpignan tourism is likely to occur in the future due to a new train station in the city’s center, and a high-speed train in development that will link Perpignan and Barcelona.  This train will shorten the length of time to get from Perpignan to Barcelona from about two and a half hours to approximately 45 minutes.

“We expect this new train will make people from Barcelona and Girona come here,” Avarello said. 
As a result, the Office of Tourism is working with the city of Girona to develop common tourist attractions.  The two towns’ tourism offices have been participating in tourism workshops together, and Perpignan has been organizing press conferences in Girona.  According to Avarello, “the idea is to attract this public of south Catalonia,” the Spanish part of Catalonia region, creating a cultural link between the two countries.
With the changes happening in Perpignan, Avarello is optimistic about the city’s future.  In addition to the new train station, the city has a new theater, which helps modernize the city’s image.

“I hope the city will continue this development through higher and higher quality tourism,” Avarello said.  “I hope in five years we will really have the image of a modern city.”

While Avarello has hope for the future, Perpignan is still managing to impress tourists in its current state.  Mark Hagar, an American tourist who visited Perpignan to study French for his job, thoroughly enjoyed his stay.

“I would return to Perpignan because I'd like to see more of the region, and it is a convenient base from which to access the South of France,” Hagar said.  “I will always recommend the city of Perpignan and all it has to offer to my friends.”


About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.