Frogs, Kiwis and a French connection

A decade ago, somewhat weary of their Parisian lifestyle and facing their thirties, Carole Zink and Sébastien Michel were looking to extend their horizons when a call from a friend in a distant land inspired a new adventure.

Landing in New Zealand in 2001, the pair created as a travel blog to record a travelling odyssey that, in many respects, has never ended.

The young French travellers set off on an extensive road trip throughout New Zealand, visiting all corners of the country to populate the website and gather information for future projects in the country that had become their new home.

Eventually, after living in Wellington, Nelson, Queenstown and Christchurch, they settled in Auckland to establish what has since become a successful publishing business.

Working holiday

Carole Zink recalls that when she first arrived in New Zealand, it felt like she’d "joined an exclusive group" as there were only 250 French people in the country on a working holiday visa.

"Meeting other French people across the country was a reason for celebration. French tourism in New Zealand was still very small and there was not a lot of relevant information in French - even Lonely Planet did not publish a French version and other publications had poor content."

Having spotted "a need", they took on the challenge - publishing four French-language New Zealand guidebooks: Auckland Region (2002), South Island (2004), North Island (2007), New Zealand (2010).

Since then, the Guides des Frogs have sold more than 23,000 copies to buyers in France and other French-speaking countries around the world earning the respect of both booksellers and travellers.

Growth in the French travel market - and the demand by French-speakers for local knowledge provided in their own language - inspired the development in 2004 of the travel agency Frogs Voyage.

Now a team of 10, "the Frogs" - as they became known as - has organised and booked more than 8,000 francophone travellers.

With 22,000 visitors a month, and an authoritative Google ranking, caters for travellers, working-holiday makers and expatriates.

"We process hundreds of enquiries a month relating to campervan rentals, tailored itineraries, accommodation, activities and language schools. The language, the expertise and the matching tastes are sought after by our customers," Carole says.

Frogs Tribu [Frogs tribe] hosts New Zealand’s largest French-language internet forum covering many subjects with 65,000-plus forum posts, 1000-plus images and articles, services and comprehensive information.

French travellers

Since their arrival and the development of their travel business, the French-speaking tourist market has become a recognised tourism phenomenon in New Zealand, Carole says.

It’s no longer uncommon to hear French spoken around New Zealand as thousands of young French people come to New Zealand under the ‘youth working holiday’ visa scheme which gives young Kiwis a similar opportunity in France.

Other French travellers are also discovering New Zealand as a destination rich in experiences, stories and places to visit that is worth a longer term holiday.

Apart from France, French-speaking travellers in New Zealand include people from the French Pacific territories (Tahiti, New Caledonia), Switzerland, Belgium and Quebec.

Carole estimates that "as a whole, the French-speaking market is as big as the German market - with around 50,000 people a year".

RWC and movies

New Zealand, she says, has benefitted from significant exposure in France through the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the blockbuster ‘Middle-earth’ movies featuring the Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit.

Sailing events such as The America’s Cup and interest in Māori culture have also contributed to New Zealand’s promotion in France.

"New Zealand gets more and more attention and it is now very common to hear about New Zealand in France.

"When we started they were very few inbound travel agencies selling New Zealand. Today the competition has considerably increased, especially after the media exposure of the 2011 Rugby World Cup."

Travel app for smartphones

Competition and the strong New Zealand dollar turned 2012 into a pivotal year for the team at Frogs, inspiring the development and release of a new travel app for Smartphone.

"We call it our giant leap! Our guidebook needed an update and we wanted to expand into new territories. So, matching our in-depth content with our booking expertise, mobile technology seemed like the best way to go forward."

While exhibiting at the 2012 Paris International Tourism Show, the team met a top Canadian app provider, also French. The result was "three corners of the world meeting to deliver a highly interactive digital platform working on iPhone/Android, all in French, roaming free, loaded with the Frogs comprehensive travel information, operator reviews, and tips".

The new Guide Frogs was released in Apple Store and Google Play in early 2013, and early adopters are able to download for no cost.

Background: French travellers to New Zealand

The French-speaking travel market is quite diverse, according to Carole, with travel patterns varying between the different nationalities.

People from France tend to do the ‘trip of a lifetime’ in New Zealand. They usually travel as a couple, come for an average three weeks and want to visit as much of the country as possible. Campervans and self-drive itineraries are popular with this group.

Apart from the more budget-focused backpackers, mature travellers are likely to seek "cozy and authentic" establishments rather than luxury lodges and expensive restaurants.

They are mostly independent travellers or smaller tour groups looking for an off-the-beaten track experience. Language is sometimes a challenge.

French travellers, Carole says, are interested in seeing and experiencing the country. They are usually very interested in Māori culture, scenery, fauna and flora, and walking.

Expat French living in Tahiti and New Caledonia have different travel styles. They usually come for shorter holidays and choose one island - the North Island is the most popular, but Queenstown also attracts during the winter ski season. The typical family group - parents and two children - is generally looking for budget accommodation options to reserve money for activities. Campervans are a popular alternative for this group.

Native Tahitians, who have established links to New Zealand (as opposed to French expats), generally use their own networks of operators, accommodation and family links.

French Canadians, Belgians and Swiss have different preferences. French Canadians often enjoy the North American style of travel with groups, buses and conventional tourism. Belgians and Swiss are similar to French tourists but are more likely to have a bigger budget.

Background: Frogs-in-NZ travel app features

  • interactive, French-language travel guide to New Zealand
  • available for Android, iPhone and iPad
  • works offline - downloaded version & built-in maps
  • 100% French-language / local knowledge content
  • expert content & ratings, 4300-plus addresses, daily updates
  • trip planner for personalised or predefined travel itineraries
  • navigation and augmented reality - directions, geo-localisation and city views - without roaming fees
  • online sharing - trip journal with personal images
  • direct booking - via phone and wifi
  • available on App Store and Google Play