The Touring Club de France (TCF) has played a major role in the promotion and development of tourism in France, from 1890 to 1984. An officially recognised non-profit organisation in 1907, the object of the association, as set out in its Articles of Association, is “the development of tourism in all its forms, both by the facilities it gives its members and by the conservation of all that constitutes the picturesque or artistic interest of travel”. Redefining “good taste” through tourism, protecting and promoting French heritage as the essential showcase for attracting visitors, it was, during the second half of the 20th century, at odds with changing social practices in France.
For cycling and freedom
The Touring Club de France was created in the late 19th century at a time when social initiatives thrived, underpinned by a certain Anglomania (admiration for English culture). Firstly, the rising social classes (the significant increase in the number of civil servants with the increasing number of missions by the State and local authorities, the expansion of small traders and artisans amidst rapid urban development, the emergence of engineers in the industrial world, etc.) were reshaping legitimate leisure practices (Réau, 2011). The Touring Club de France (TCF) played a part in the redefinition of “good taste”, with reference to the social distinction process, to build on the work of Pierre Bourdieu (2003).
Secondly, leisure took on a political dimension. Without engaging in government political games, the TCF reformulated the objectives of sports practice, initially focused on socialisation with peers, in favour of defending a “general interest”. As a result, it is relatively close to solidarism, a political doctrine at its peak in 1890-1910, that promoted mutualism, social justice, and liberty (Bertho-Lavenir, 1999).
Finally, the English cultural influence is undeniable, insofar as the creation of the TCF was based on the model of the Cyclist’s Touring Club, praised by Édouard Bruel, director of a Parisian cycle shop and the initiator of the French creation. Faced with the considerable number of cyclists’ associations and the shifting focus of the Union vélocipédique (cyclist association) of France towards competition, the TCF, created in January 1890, defended as its main objective the development of tourism in all its forms.
The TCF was not the first tourist association in France. For example, the Dauphiné Tourist Society was founded in 1874/1875 and the Dauphiné Tourist Union in 1882. These creations were part of a vast European movement which, from 1880, saw a surge in associations explicitly devoted to outings, a practice combining sport and socialisation. But the TCF was the only association to have a national dimension, gradually boosting memberships and budgets. Cycling was the way to bring together the urban middle class made up of employees, small business owners and craftsmen for itineraries designed for discovering France and meeting one another at the end of final leg (Ill. 1). The upper social classes biked mainly privately while the lower classes could not access it due to the cost of the equipment.
The TCF built the foundations of a tourism market, in parallel with initiatives taken by businesses (E.g., Michelin and its tourist maps, road signs, guides, etc.). It worked first of all to improve infrastructures, in particular roads for cyclists (and soon for motorists), which became preferred roads (road comfort, distance from pedestrians, animals and obstacles outside the road, road signs), and hotels, which had to cater to the sanitary standards of the urban bourgeoisie. It then promoted French territory as opposed to other destinations abroad. Tourist posters promoted destinations as well as the services provided by the association (Ill. 2).
Tourism as a driver of urban modernity
In March 1891, an official newsletter was launched, allowing members to become the chroniclers of a group outing or creators of a pioneering hike. The practical aspects were not forgotten. The inventory of “good hotels” resulted in a free advertisement in the TCF Yearbook and the laying of an official plaque from 1894. At the end of 1890s, the TCF magazine recommended that its members (more than 70,000 people) avoid “unsanitary” hotels, i.e., those that did not meet the standards issued by the association.
Efforts to protect and enhance the “sites and monuments of France” helped to support the list of sites during the second half of the 19th century. The TCF put in intense efforts to raise awareness of landscapes. It published books and rallied around its Committee of picturesque Sites and Monuments, created in 1904, all the actors involved in the defence of heritage. With the Société pour la protection des Paysages de France (society for the protection of landscapes in France), founded in 1901, it prepared the adoption of the 1906 law on the protection of natural sites which, in a way, called into question, private ownership to serve the common good (Corbin, 2002). Supporting the creation and dissemination of tourist maps, it facilitated travel (Ill. 3).
The TCF promoted the democratisation of yachting from 1907. Considered elitist, organised according to the terms recommended by nautical circles and regatta societies, yachting saw its image evolve in order to promote coasts, lakes and rivers in France that had gradually been abandoned by coastal merchant shipping. However, it was not until the middle of the 20th century that the group took on a name, Groupe des Yachtsmen du Touring Club de France.
The TCF was a catalyst for the development of winter sports. Skiing is the pretext for the development of winter tourism in the mountains, through a propaganda drive in its magazine and encouragement by the regional delegates to take up skiing. The principle of the “Grande semaine d’hivernage” (Great wintering week) was established in 1908, in order to convince participating tourists of the appeal of winter sports and to show the mountain people the economic benefits of winter tourism. The development of the mountain for tourism purposes was encouraged: access paths to resorts, marking of the tracks, high altitude shelters (Schut, 2018).
TCF’s initiatives as the driver of tourism in the regions
The promotion of regional cuisine only started from the 1920s. In this regard, everything had to start from scratch as the gap between bourgeois cuisine and rural practices was wide. Tourism is an important factor in the establishment of restaurants outside Paris (Etcheverria, 2019). While the Michelin guide mentioned the gastronomic interests of restaurants from 1920, the TCF organised from 1930 to 1935 a “good food contest” in order to develop a culinary heritage and to ensure that restaurant owners had a clientèle that now owned a car. The regional dish now had to meet strict criteria: gastronomic specialities of a region and wines of the country were vital without being either luxurious or common (Rauch, 2008).
In the 1920s and 1930s, the TCF became one of the most active tourism associations with the public authorities. It benefited from the development of the culture of leisure in Europe in the post-World War period. In 1927, Léon Auscher, Vice-President of the TCF (Ill. 4), thus presented a report on the economic importance of tourism to the National Economic Council. The TCF worked on improving the physical appeal of villages in accordance with the aesthetic expectations of tourists, along the lines of the model of the “tourist village” of Switzerland or Austria, where carefully renovated white plasters and red flowers at the windows offered an image of affluence and happiness (Bertho Lavenir, 1999).
The Touring Club de France at odds with post-war tourism
While members of the Touring Club resumed their peregrinations after the war, ordinary campers reconstituted the traditional forms of everyday life. The “bourgeois” values of privacy, need for silence and discretion, contact with polished nature, are no longer compatible with the new ways of life that explore other possibilities of enjoying free time.
The association that reconciled outdoor leisure and moral values weakened over the course of the century. Militant ambitions gave way to new forms of tourism consumption. The French had then gained more experience of travelling (MIT, 2008: P. 128-129), they feel less need to be accompanied in certain initiatives, as initially proposed by the TCF, and also became more expert and critical (Ill. 5). These learnings partly led to the desire to break with the tradition of “intellectual” tourism, quiet consumer of monuments and landscapes, promoted by the TCF. The success of the Guide du Routard, especially after it was published by Hachette (after having been with the more confidential bookseller Gedalge), symbolised this change of perspectives that was taken into account too late.
The end of the Touring Club de France
The Touring Club de France went bankrupt in early 1984. Assistance to motorists was less sought: maps and guides were available in all bookshops and road signage was comprehensive in the West. In addition, tourists were less dependent on a mutual aid, defence and support society to visit France. The causes for which the TCF, as the spearhead of new ideas, fought were taken up by the government: standardisation of hotel rooms, award of stars to campsites, protection of monuments, financing of thematic routes. In the 1980s, tourist guides were given a new look while the TCF magazine kept its old-fashioned layout.
While in Belgium and Italy, Touring Clubs continued by diversifying their activities (in Belgium, car insurance, car rental, vehicle inspection centres, battery recharging for electric vehicles, etc.), in France the association declined after growing financial difficulties since the end of the 1970s. The TCF archives were donated to the National Archives in 1984. The TCF library was bought by the City of Paris in 1986, which created, within the Germaine Tillion municipal library located in the 16th district, a tourism and travel library.
- Bertho-Lavenir Catherine, 1999, La roue et le stylo. Comment nous sommes devenus touristes. Paris, Odile Jacob, coll. «Le Champ médiologique».
- Bourdieu Pierre, 2003, La distinction. Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit.
- Corbin Alain, 2002, «Naissance de la politique du paysage en France», Revue des deux mondes. mars, p. 9-13, en ligne.
- Etcheverria Olivier, 2019, Le restaurant, une approche géographique. De l’invention aux destinations touristiques gourmandes. Londres, ISTE éditions, coll. «Série Tourisme et systèmes de mobilité», 303 p.
- MIT, 2008, Tourismes 1. Lieux communs. Paris, Belin, 320 p.
- Rauch André, 2008, «Les pionniers du plat régional et du vin de pays. France, 1920-1940», dans Julia Csergo et Jean-Pierre Lemasson (dir.), Voyages en gastronomies. L’invention des capitales et des régions gourmandes. Paris, Autrement, coll. «Mutations», p. 22-31.
- Réau Bertrand, 2011, Les Français et les vacances. Paris, CNRS Éditions.
- Schut Pierre-Olaf, 2018, «Les innovations du Touring-Club de France dans le développement des sports d’hiver (1908-1914)», Entreprises et histoire. n°93, p. 47-61.