Travelling to France to learn about the luxury market

Students walking through the streets of Paris

Despite difficult economic times that persist globally, the global luxury goods market is expected to thrive. Statista (2023) predicts the market will increase from US$354.8 billion in 2023 to US$418.9 billion in 2028. Growth is from younger consumers who expect high tech shopping experiences and digital channels.

Streets in Lyon

A group of Ted Rogers School students had the opportunity to learn first-hand about the luxury market through an experiential learning trip to France. The trip was part of the RMG917: Experiential Learning – Travel Study course where Retail Management selects an important retail theme, explores it in a classroom setting and brings in guest lecturers from Toronto and around the world (via Zoom). The course culminates in a trip outside of Canada to experience the theme first hand and augment what they have learned.

This year, the theme of the course was the luxury consumer and luxury retailing. Retail Management partnered with the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM), and added a component on luxury travel and gastronomy. The experiential learning trip for the course was to France, where 18 students (15 from Retail and three from HTM) visited Paris, Lyon, Cannes and Grasse to gain a better understanding of the luxury market. The students were accompanied by Retail Professor Dr. Donna Smith and HTM Professor Dr. Frédéric Dimanche on the trip, which took place from April 28 to May 5, 2024.

Here is what a few students had to say about their experience: 

From Retail Management student Jana Srajeldin:

When I discovered that my class, RMG917, offered a trip to France, I was so excited and ready to embark on this insightful journey. Throughout the semester, Professor Donna Smith taught us a lot about luxury retail and prepared us for the incredible experience ahead. However, nothing could have fully prepared me for how amazing this trip would be.

Our first stop in France was Paris, and we had a full itinerary. On the day we all arrived, we had the freedom to explore the city on our own before reuniting for an authentic French dinner. 

The second day is when we began our meetings and presentations. We met Carine, our tour guide, who introduced us to Gabriel Petrus and Johanna Le Pape. Gabriel, with his extensive experience at the International Chamber of Commerce, provided insights into the luxury retail sector from an international perspective. Then we met Johanna, a world champion pastry chef, who inspired us with her expertise in luxury dining and recommended many pastry shops around Paris for us to try. 

We later headed to Neuilly-sur-Seine to meet with PwC. This visit was truly amazing and really enhanced our understanding of consulting and its dynamics. We even tried Apple VR headsets and had deep fakes made of us. The presentations on consulting services and the luxury industry were extremely informational. 

On our third day, we toured Place Vendôme, the epitome of French luxury, and its surrounding streets filled with prestigious retailers like Hermès and Louis Vuitton. Learning about the rich history of these brands and exploring their stores with my new knowledge was fascinating. Later, we met Emma Jounent and Tiffany Alta (a TMU alumna!) from Sephora, who gave us a tour of the Champs-Élysées flagship Sephora store. The store’s size, product offerings and customer service were impressive. Many aspects resonated with what we had learned in our Retail Management program, such as the various point of sale (POS) areas that simplify the customer experience and in-store activities like free hairstyling that create an engaging atmosphere. 

Overall, this trip was the highlight of my university experience. Stepping out of the classroom and seeing how what I had learned over the last four years applied in real-life settings was amazing. Learning about the retail industry internationally through a different culture and networking with industry representatives in a country with such a strong retail presence was invaluable. 

From Retail Management student Marwa Houneini: 

Students in front of l'Occitane store in Lyon

Our adventure in Lyon (the culinary capital of France) started with visiting The Village, a luxury outlet mall. Meeting Riccardo Villani, the retail manager, was incredibly insightful. He gave us an overview of the mall’s current retail environment and shared exciting plans for future projects. We also had a session with the Paul Bocuse organization, where we learned about their brand and marketing strategies while enjoying a delicious lunch at a Bocuse restaurant. This experience was particularly exciting as we understood the luxury market and explored French culture through its exquisite cuisine. It was a hands-on experience that allowed us to shop, work on our projects and gather data from numerous retailers. Being familiar with some French and European brands from afar, this direct interaction was eye-opening.

The second highlight of our trip was a scavenger hunt through the Old Town, where we explored Lyon’s food and beverages scene. This was the standout moment for me. Students, including myself, tasted authentic Lyonnais delicacies, engaged with locals and bonded with our group of friends and professors, all in the spirit of solving the scavenger hunt. Exploring the beautiful architecture, savouring fresh French brioche and sampling various kinds of cheese made the experience unforgettable.

Another stop in Lyon was the Intercontinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu, where we learned about the customer experience in a luxury setting. The hotel, housed in a historic building that once served as a hospital, was breathtaking. We explored the operations of this high-end hotel with our hosts. The bar, situated under a magnificent 32-meter-high dome, was a true wonder: it had recently been ranked best hotel bar in the world! Another highlight was touring the Presidential Suite, which embodied the traditions of Vieux Lyon with its stunning architecture and ambiance. We discovered that celebrities had stayed in this suite.

Students at Intercontinental Lyon Hotel

Our final stop in Lyon was at the Ecole Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode (ESMOD), where we saw fashion up close. We were introduced to many insights from French designers, thanks to Sebastien Blondin. This visit was particularly enlightening as it gave us a deeper understanding of the fashion industry from a French perspective. Sebastien shared his expertise on the latest trends, design techniques and the overall fashion landscape in France.

Overall, my trip to France, especially Lyon, was a perfect mix of luxury, culture and fantastic food. We had insightful meetings with industry experts, dove into local traditions and explored stunning architecture. Every moment in Lyon was unforgettable. It was incredible to see what we’ve been learning over the past few years, especially in our RMG917 course, come to life authentically and excitingly.

Cannes and Grasse
From HTM student Tiffany Pham:

After a long evening of travelling from Lyon, we finally arrived in Cannes. We stayed at a gorgeous boutique hotel named Idéal Séjour, a hidden gem in a quiet driveway up the hill. Every guest room was themed, and we were absolutely delighted to discover all the fun and intricate details they had to offer. 

Students at perfume-making workshop in Cannes

We headed to Grasse the next morning to visit Fragonard Parfumeur, a renowned family-owned perfumery in the world’s perfume capital. We learned about the meticulous techniques the skilled perfumers employ, from the delicate distillation of rose petals to the careful blending of exotic ingredients. The passion and craftsmanship that went into each creation were truly inspiring, and we gained a newfound appreciation for the artistry behind every exquisite fragrance. We then attended a perfume workshop where we could create our own perfume. Our guide was knowledgeable and engaging, forming an emotional connection between us and the product, and ultimately, with the brand Fragonard. 

Carlton Hotel in Cannes

Later that afternoon, we returned to Cannes, the epitome of glamour and sophistication. The group visited the iconic Carlton Cannes Hotel, with its grand façade and legendary history, beckoned us to explore its opulent interiors. In class, we have learned how luxury brands masterfully curate an aura of exclusivity, and the Carlton perfectly embodies said theory. All staff members were highly professional and attentive to small details, ensuring the guests’ experience was elevated. We strolled through the lavish lobby and the garden, admiring the intricate details and imagining the countless celebrities who had graced its halls during the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. 

Before our farewell dinner, we had some free time to explore the charming streets of Cannes. The promenade along the sparkling Mediterranean Sea was a sight to behold, with its palm-lined boulevards and chic boutiques.

Our journey had been profoundly enriching for all of us studying luxury retail and luxury tourism. Networking with industry experts and experiencing the opulent retail environments deepened our understanding of the nuances that define luxury. This immersive experience not only broadened our academic knowledge, but also inspired us to think creatively and strategically about our future careers in the luxury sector.