FRONTIERES SELLS ITS 'DEMOCRACY' OVER OPULANCE;LEISURE TRAVEL MARKETER BRINGS CRUISES, HOTELS WITHIN REACH

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[paris] Before Jacques Maillot changed the leisure travel industry forever, the French had one affordable vacation option: Stay home.

Outraged by high prices and poor service, Mr. Maillot has turned a personal crusade to make travel to far-flung destinations affordable into a $1.5 billion Paris-based travel group called Nouvelles Frontieres (New Frontiers), now Europe's seventh largest and the biggest in France.

His next venture will be to set up a cruise line, an industry he claims is still overpriced.

The cruise line "should be up in the next 18 months," he predicted. "And it should cost travelers around half of the $100 per day a cruise out of the U.S. would. It's a great opportunity-the demand is there and the sector needs to be democratized."

Mr. Maillot, 54, passed his ritzier rival Club Med in size by making a career of "democratizing travel." A lifelong leftist, he finds "Nouvelles Frontieres is fighting for your right to travel" to be a catchy slogan-and he uses it in his advertising.

BUILDING THE BUSINESS

The key to his success as a travel marketer has been to create an emporium of travel options as he identifies sector after sector where the consumer is not being catered to at a tempting price.

After opening Nouvelles Frontieres as a travel agency in 1968, Mr. Maillot became frustrated by the lack of price flexibility when he tried to negotiate hotel rooms and airline seats for his customers. As his business grew, he took the unusual step of buying his own airplanes and hotels.

In 1989, he rescued an ailing airline and rechristened it Corsair. It now transports many of his travelers, usually for 20% to 35% less than other airlines' fares.

Customers often stay at one of more than 30 hotels in the Paladin chain he started at popular Nouvelles Frontieres destinations.

LANGUAGE (AND SCUBA) LESSONS

Nouvelles Frontieres' travel services are sold at the company's 360 travel agencies in Europe, Asia and the U.S.

Travelers who want to learn the language of the country they will visit can take classes at Nouvelles Frontieres' language school. They can also rent a car or a sailboat from Nouvelles Frontieres, or take scuba diving lessons.

"If you take advantage of the full range of our services and facilities, money you spend in one part circulates around to keep prices low in another," Mr. Maillot said. "You can have as much or as little as you like."

The travel group's most popular destinations are Martinique, Guadaloupe and Tahiti; India, New York and Los Angeles are also popular.

The company is adding hotels in Asia, as travel to the region grows rapidly. Noting the popularity of Eastern Europe, Nouvelles FrontiŠres has set up travel agencies in Slovakia and the Czech Republic and is developing a hotel in Croatia, a new destination for the company.

Nouvelles Frontieres served 2.2 million clients in 1995, from 4,000 in its first year, and clientele grows by 15% to 17% a year, Mr. Maillot said.

Although he advertises internationally and has travel agencies worldwide, he has largely failed to crack the U.S. or U.K. markets. The U.K. is dominated by a few travel giants like Thomson Travel Group, Europe's largest travel company with 7 million customers a year, almost all in the U.K.

Nouvelles Frontieres' image as the champion of cost-conscious travelers is carefully cultivated in no-frills ads by little Paris shop Pavloff & Associes.

On a tiny ad budget, the typical Nouvelles Frontieres print ads portray ordinary people discovering they can travel to desirable places at affordable prices. In France, Club Med spends more than three times Nouvelles Frontieres' $6.2 million ad budget.

Aside from the ad budget are 1 million information-packed brochures and fliers run as newspaper inserts and distributed in travel agencies.

Now Mr. Maillot is wavering about adding TV to his marketing efforts. "We have one [spot] ready to go," he confided. "But we are not ready."

Knowing his market, he worries that commercials featuring exotic locations won't appeal to his customers, who would rather accumulate information about prices and destinations and do comparison shopping.

COURTROOM PUBLICITY

Nouvelles Frontieres' customer-friendly and affordable image has been reinforced, at least in France, by vast amounts of free publicity as Mr. Maillot is hauled into court by rivals and the French government, usually on charges of unfair pricing.

Since the first case in 1970, Mr. Maillot said, "I have been in court roughly 200 times, always accused of the sin of having found the way of offering low prices and still staying in business," he said.

Although he admits cheerfully that he usually loses, Mr. Maillot did win one landmark case a decade ago that led to a general drop in the price of airline tickets.

Despite helping to create the magic of travel for millions, Mr. Maillot's own transport options are somewhat limited. After repeatedly failing his driving test, he gets around Paris on his motorscooter.

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Jacques Maillot

Birth date: Nov. 11, 1941.

Education: French baccalaureate and B.A.-level diploma in law.

Career highlights: founded Nouvelles FrontiŠres in 1968.

Honors: Named member of the French Legion of Honor in 1992.

Personal: Married, two daughters, two sons.

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