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Philippe Gloaguen, founder of the Guides du Routard: “The problem with tourism is not the influx of visitors, but their management”

The founder of the Guides du Routard was passing through Brussels. To evoke travel, his career, the appetite for discovery of tourists, around an aperitif.

the Circle of Travelers, a charming bar-restaurant next to the Manneken-Pis where Brussels residents, expatriates and globetrotters rub shoulders. As soon as you enter, you are already somewhere else. A decor that makes our lives seem very small as it invites you to travel with its 2.50 meters of stacked suitcases that line the length of the walls. Under the suitcases are rows of books to consult. There is a plethora of copies of “Art and Civilizations”, but also titles such as “Hunting Animals”, “The Atlas of Africa” ​​or “The Alps of Happiness”. In the sky of the high ceilings, two maps of the world are drawn: on one side “The Americas”, on the other “Europe and Africa”. In the club chairs, two girlfriends chat; on the benches, English people are pouring mussels and white wine.

It is here that Philippe Gloaguen, the founding owner of the famous Guide du Routard, has arranged to meet us. Even he is surprised by discovering the places, he will also take pictures of them. In fact, he did not know the place, it was his collaborator in Brussels who had told him about it. “The regional of the stage”, he launches with amusement. A man he has worked with for over 20 years – as with many others. He recognizes him straight away, he doesn’t know the capital well enough. Parisian, Rhétais in summer but of Breton origin, he claims his origins with the same force as those who have never lived in “their country”. If he doesn’t know Brussels, he adds that he continues to travel a lot – “that’s the only interest of this job” – even if he hasn’t tested the addresses recommended by the guide for a long time. “I’m going to tell you something that will make you understand everything: I have been disabled for 30 years” A rare disease, very hard years, endless hospitalizations. And on arrival, if he saved his skin, he lost his full ability to move. “To put it simply, I manage to go as far as the Grand-Place, but I would be unable to make the return.”

Consequently, in addition to the direction of the guide, he now specializes in extremely specific things, such as sidebars devoted to medieval architecture, which fascinates him. “I could even give you 3 hours on the cathedrals”, or even on The Lady with the Unicorn, the 6 tapestries exhibited at the Cluny Museum. “If the first 5 are each dedicated to a sense (hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste), we wondered for centuries about the meaning of the sixth. It is only recently that we discovered that it was about kindness and temperance, which is therefore not a meaning, but the sublimation of man. Admit that it is magnificent, isn’t it?

We ask him if he has any, kindness and temperance. “You have to ask the others, but I’m going to tell you two things that you can do with what you want. The guide is 35 freelancers and 22 people (19 women and 3 men) hired under author statusa status that does not grant unemployment rights in the event of covid. I didn’t fire anyone and I paid everyone for two years. And question of staff turnover, the duration with us is 25 years on average. It’s that I must not be too bad”, he concludes then.

From India to France by bike

For his aperitif, he draws up an inventory of those he likes, without having realized at this stage that the goal of the game is to sip one together. Also surprised, he falls back on a red port when he learns that the bar has no Suze, let alone Malaga. “From Mala what?” asks the waiter in amazement. Question job, today, and after having published hundreds of guides devoted to the whole worldPhilippe Gloaguen returns with two beautiful more regional books: “La France à vélo” and “Expériences et micro-aventures”, still in France. “Very covid” choices, born “obviously” from confinement, he explains again.

“People will still continue to travel, but in a greener way.”

If we think back to his very first guide, devoted to the route to India, we can’t help thinking that the world has changed a lot. What does he think of it? It’s that people will still continue to travel, but in a more ecological way, “see the night trains that are back in service”. No more mini city-trips by plane to spend two romantic days in Rome, but stays that will be spread over 5 days. Another thought for him: continue the vein of the guide, namely to discover little or unknown regions. A vision that he shares through conferences.

“Fundamentally, I don’t think the problem with tourism is the influx of visitors, but the management of them.”

Tourist management

We ask him if, by dint of being visited and exploited, these regions would not lose both their charm and nature. “That’s not the calculation! The calculation is thatthere are so many hotels and restaurants that can no longer survive, and that with my guide, I bring people to them. We are not talking about a surge of millions of tourists suddenly arriving in a region. More fundamentally, I don’t think the problem with tourism is the influx of visitors, but the management of them. Look at Colorado, I have descended it twice and each time, I have the impression of being alone in the world while the site welcomes 10 million visitors. But there you go, there are rules to follow and the site is very controlled.” A reflection that he also applies to the Louvrethe most visited museum in the world and which, for this reason, should be open every day and even at night.

“The tragedy is not the all-in, but the fact that this development never benefits the local population. For me, development is above all job security.”

Heckled sector

He then bounces back on what he considers to be the real problem: “I recently read a fascinating article in Le Monde devoted to the all-ins in Punta Cana. The journalist said that the drama is not the all-in. in, but the fact that this development never benefits the local population. I agree 100% with his point because for me, development is above all job security.”

Nicely finishing his port, Philippe Gloaguen tells us that if tourism is above all a factor of peace, the sector is not a long calm river either. “If some countries are opening up, others are closing. Since Erdogan has been in power, we have been selling between 20 and 30% less guides. And when Trump came to power, we were losing 5% every year on guides. guides from the United States. This year, for example, we won’t be releasing the guide from China. Russia is the same. You see, there are constant changes.”


“When Trump came to power, we were losing 5% on US guides every year.”

One thing, however, remains certain: the Routard guide remains the second best-selling collection at Hachette, “just after Asterix”, laughs its founder. As for the announced death of paper, ¾ of readers continue to prefer it to the app. And that this year, like every year, 130 guides will be published, barely 30 less than before the covid. What a great way to spend a summer!

What are you drinking?

Favorite aperitif: “It depends. At noon often a little white wine. In the evening, I’m more like Spritz, Suze or Malaga.”

At table: “Only Burgundy, but the cheapest, like Irancy – Louis XIV’s favorite – and Santenay.”

Last cooked: “With friends from France Info, we have dinner every Sunday evening in a Brazilian restaurant and we drink caipirinhas. Sometimes too much.”

Who to pay a drink to: “I already had it, it was with Hubert Beuve-Méry, the founder of Le Monde. Without doubt the craziest meeting of my life.”

The creator of the Routard guides in 5 dates

1968: “I passed my baccalaureate with honors at 16, I was a year and a half ahead.”

1972: “My 1er trip to India, drunk with freedom and blessed with the confidence of my parents.”

1989: “I fall seriously ill, the POEMS syndrome, which will leave me handicapped.”

1996: “The passing of my father, a deep sadness.”

1992 and 1995: “The birth of my children. My reason for living, my reason for being.”

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