I Love Ski: Can you tell us about your proffessional career and public life?
Jean-Philippe Monfort: I’m 40 years old and I’m the director of the La Clusaz tourist office since March 18, 2019.
This is my first experience in a resort, although I worked a lot with resorts and for resorts, both French and foreign.
My career is a little unusual. I was born in Barcelonnette in the Southern Alps. I was educated in a military and sports family and I quickly felt the passion for the mountains.
I discovered skiing and mountain practice in all its forms when I was very young. I lived in Africa and I studied my baccalaureate in Cameroon. It’s a pretty incredible experience, especially when you’re 18 years old. This influenced me in the choice of my studies. At the time, I had only one idea in mind: to go back to work in Cameroon, in logging. I went to the end of the primary forest with friends, close to the border with Gabon, it really was an adventure. I decided to return to France to do short studies, in international logistics, and then return to settle in Cameroon.
During my studies, my love was always there. With our diploma in hand, in 2000, I went on an 8 months initiatory trip to South America and Asia with my girlfriend (who became my wife). When we returned, she continued her studies on Annecy and I followed her. I worked in logistics and international trade in a large company in Geneva. At that time, I discovered skiing and mountain in the Aravis and La Clusaz. I knew this resort as a customer.
Then I wanted to match my hobbies (climbing, ski touring, skiing) with my professional activity. I resumed studies to get a title at the Chambery Business School. I joined this career oriented to sport and mountain and I worked in climbing and outdoor sports for a small company that manufactured climbing equipment, where I was in charge of international development.
I had put my work and my hobbies on the front and at that time I was interested in the economy of the mountain, how it was constituted, how isolated poor territories had managed to ensure a transition with a real economy around tourism…
In 2007, I joined Benoît Robert at France Neige International (he’s still the director of Cluster Montagne) and I entered this association whose goal was to help the foreign countries to develop their tourist offer on the mountain.
Between 2007 and 2019, I spent 12 years traveling the world, deciphering the markets and identifying development projects, responding to requests from public or private actors in the mountains, analyzing their expectations and ensuring the implementation. network with our institutions and our ecosystem, including our companies, members of the Mountain Cluster (design offices, equipment manufacturers such as Poma, operators such as the Compagnie des Alpes, digital specialists, tourism diversification…).
With this experience, I realized that mature markets (Alpine Arc, Scandinavia, North America) and emerging markets often have the same issues and the same goals as we do.
After these 12 years, at age 40, it made sense to put my expertise into practice. It was important for me to use this professional experience to serve my mountains. I did not come from the Aravis and La Clusaz but I consider that I am a product of the mountain.
I Love Ski: What are your motivations? What makes you get up in the morning?
Jean-Philippe Monfort: Today, from my experience, I am convinced that mountain destinations like La Clusaz have a bright future. Before being a ski resort (as it’s the case of many resorts in the Tarentaise that were born from the snow plan), La Clusaz is a mountain village, with great natural, cultural, gastronomic, architectural and sports heritage that allows it to be a land of champions. I wanted to commit to a territory that, according to my vision of mountain tourism development, meets the expectations of today’s and tomorrow’s customers.
Beyond sports activities such as skiing, mountain biking, hiking or exploring our playground, there is an authentic experience. Customers need to find a safe destination, where there are values, a positive state of mind and a unique atmosphere. The actors of the territory (restaurateurs, hoteliers, shopkeepers, guides and instructors…) are families, people that have a story to tell. When the customers arrive, they quickly identify that the people they have in front of them are locals of the village, that the ‘reblochon of the tartiflette’ is made here. It’s a treasure, and I am very attached to these aspects. I think very sincerely that it will be part of more and more factors of decision of our French or international clientele.
Photo : La Clusaz ski resort
I Love Ski: At 40, what has been your biggest professional achievement?
Jean-Philippe Monfort: My best experiences are bound to be human aspects. What I bring to La Clusaz, which has been retained, is my broad vision of mountain tourism, my network of institutional, economic and academic actors in France and abroad, and finally the quality of the human relationships, which are indispensable in order to federate and build collective actions. Human values are fundamental: mountain and mountain tourism is built by men and women. I have traveled to more than forty mountain countries, on more than 130 professional trips (Andes, Siberia, Caucasus, Rockies, Carpathians, Atlas, Himalayas…) and my biggest successes are related to meetings where, finally, without speaking the same language, we came to understand each other. We were mountain people and we wanted the best for our territories.
I really appreciated all the work done in South America (Chile, Argentina, Colombia), on mountain territories such as Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego, which sought to develop their activities on a PPP (Public Private Partnership) model.
I promoted the development of skiing in the Caucasus in the period before the Sochi Olympics in Russia and Georgia in 2009, with a very strong cooperation between the Alps and the South Caucasus. I met extraordinary people who wanted to build an economy not as we had in the past but rather as we would like to do today if we could remodel our mountains. This requires innovation and adaptation. This was the case in the Mestia Valley.
I had the chance to accompany Compagnie des Alpes, as part of their international development, with people like Jean-Marc Farini and Frédéric Marion. I participated in their first missions to revive the ski market in Japan on 2011. The rapprochement between France and China in the field of skiing and mountain tourism was also very rewarding in Sichuan or in Hebei Province, around Beijing with the Olympics. My collaborations with Scandinavian resorts in the field of sustainable tourism and summer development were also very instructive. These actions have allowed French mountain bike experts such as Bike Solutions to position themselves in this market. I am also very proud of the synergies put in place with the North American market. Even though our models are different, the lessons and benchmarking missions have brought a lot of lessons to resorts from both sides of the Atlantic.
In France, we have incredible knowledge on our governance, our businesses and our professionals in the field. One of my great satisfactions was to network, to animate all these actors during special events like Mountain Planet, where we brought over 200 representatives of resorts, operators, elected officials and tourism professionals. For example, I have a picture of a US resort responsible for an Iranian ski resort. The ability of men and women in the mountains to go resolve situations and to say that we are all actors in skiing internationally… These meetings are very strong moments for me. Even if we don’t speak the same language, we share this desire: to make our resorts grow and to keep this industry alive.
I Love Ski: You are a defender of the development of the mountain. Today, what would you say to the detractors of mountain planning, especially skiing? How do you see the future of skiing?
Jean-Philippe Monfort: Talking about La Clusaz, with the center of the village at 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) above sea level, we can consider that the resort will be subject to more important climate changes than other high altitude resorts. Nevertheless, I’m confident because the Aravis massif has particular intrinsic characteristics (orientation, exhibition…) that allow us to be well snow-covered. Beyond skiing, we have many assets over the four seasons. There are youth studies that show that there is an appeal for the mountain and the clientele will choose their destination based on criteria such as accessibility, authenticity, diversity, creativity and services. I really believe in the approach of North American resorts and the importance they give to services. We will work collectively in La Clusaz: listening, welcoming and focusing on customer loyalty, knowing what are their expectations and adapting. Mountain people have proven during history our capacity for adaptation and innovation, and the French mountain will face this challenge.