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46 SPECIAL DOSSIER: ISLANDS OF TAHITI There’s NOTHING Like Being Embraced by Mana! Tahiti Tourism COO Gina Bunton outlines the new philosophy of the Islands of Tahiti islands’ DMO What do YOU think about when people talk about Tahiti as a tourist destination? If you have an image of newlyweds holding hands on a sandy beach with overwater bungalows in the background, you’d be like most people. We asked Gina Bunton, Chief Operations Officer – Tahiti Tourism, how travel professionals should be selling the Islands of Tahiti today… I get asked very often, “Why would I sell the islands of Tahiti rather than the Maldives or Seychelles?” Depending where you are in the world, and our perspective is that you can find a beach anywhere else, you can find a nice resort anywhere else, but what we have to offer is the diversity of experiences. We have launched a campaign that’s trying to change people’s awareness of all the possibilities they can find in the Islands of Tahiti. Many people still see us as a Honeymoon destination, where you stay in an overwater bungalow and there’s nothing much to do, which is of course not true at all. Today, we are trying to change that perception, by showing that there’s so much more to the Islands of Tahiti. You can of course come for your honeymoon, you can come as a couple for a celebration, but you can also come as a family, or as a senior person, or as a group of friends, and there’s a whole lot of things to do. The new tagline in your publicity campaigns is “Embraced by Mana”. What does this mean exactly? Mana is the life force that you find in everything in the Tahitian Islands, whether it’s the people, the environment, or the food. Mana is the essence of the Polynesian people, and the reason we ITB BERLIN NEWS • Thursday 2 nd March 2017 are so welcoming. We love sharing our culture, and we love sharing our history. You see it in the old ladies when they’re making the Lais. They love it when the tourists come and want to know how to make a Lai. It’s literally about sharing our culture; sharing our know-how, whether it’s “Come and learn how to dance with us,” or “Come and learn how to make a flower Lai or a crown”. Many of these cultural activities are now being developed as tourist products that become truly authentic experiences for the travellers. By the same token, tour guides in Tahiti are very unlike what you will find in other places. Going on an excursion in Tahiti is like going on the discovery of your guide’s story. During the day, you get into that person’s life. Because they love sharing, it’s natural for them to talk about their families and their everyday lives. They may even stop at their mum’s place and take you into the garden to eat the fruit there! These are the kinds of elements that make us very different. What source markets are growing the fastest and where are you dedicating the biggest efforts at the moment? Overall, 2016 was a very good year, and most of our main inbound markets have been growing. Our biggest market is North America, and the second market is France. They’re both performing well and have been doing well for the past couple of years. Today, our fastest growing market is China, but we of course started with very low numbers. Also in Asia, we are seeing Korea picking up thanks to improved air connections with Air Tahiti Nui. Japan is WE HAVE LAUNCHED A CAMPAIGN THAT’S TRYING TO CHANGE PEOPLE’S AWARENESS OF ALL THE POSSIBILITIES THEY CAN FIND IN THE ISLANDS OF TAHITI our third inbound market. It went through a rough patch, especially after Fukushima, but over the past year it has been picking up very well. But we’re not a mass-market destination, so it is clear that if we don’t promote the destinations beyond the “big three” islands to the travel trade, we are going to hit a ceiling. 2017 will not only be about diffusing visitors to all of our islands, but also getting them to come throughout the year, rather than just in high season Hall 5.2a / Stand 105

SPECIAL DOSSIER: ISLANDS OF TAHITI 47 Evelyne Gaudin Independent travel advisor, affiliate of En Route Travel, Santa Monica THERE’S NO TIPPING IN TAHITI, AND THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT. IT’S BECAUSE THE SERVICE THEY GIVE YOU IS A GENUINE. A True Passion for Polynesia The point of view of a top-level independent travel advisor Evelyne Gaudin, an independent affiliate of En Route Travel in Santa Monica, USA and member of Virtuoso, is a true “expert” on the destination, having visited the region more than 45 times over the past 25 years. We asked her whether she still marvels over the islands after all this time… Like anything in life, when you have a passion, it doesn’t matter how many times you revisit a place. French Polynesia touched me profoundly in 1992. Someone said to me, “You will cry when you arrive and you will cry when you leave”, and I have the same feeling every time I go. Even though it’s very familiar to me, there is a magnificence which for me personally transgresses beauty. Thanks to this passion, I am able to sell the destination very easily. I have difficulty selling something I don’t believe in, but on the other hand, when you have a passion for a place, selling it becomes a real pleasure. You have seen so many destinations in your life as a Virtuoso travel advisor… What would you say are the key “USPs” of the islands of Tahiti compared to other “dream” destinations? French Polynesia remains untouched. Even though we have seen new hotels and constructions on islands such as Bora Bora, it does not take away the colour of the lagoon, or the way the colours change all day long depending on the position of the sun. But besides the beauty of the destination, I have also found a genuine quality in the Tahitian people – a true kindness. If I may quote someone, in 2008, I was in Bora Bora and I met Pierce Brosnan. I knew he was coming every single year like I did – in fact I would go two or three times a year. I was curious as to why he would always go there too, and he told me something very interesting. He said, “I come here because I can be me”. I asked him what he meant by that, and he said, “I’m no longer Pierce Brosnan. I left Pierce Brosnan in the United States. Here nobody judges me because of my name, or my image as an actor, they just take me for who I am.” In Tahiti, people are as they are because that’s the way you should be. You don’t have to buy kindness or smiles or service. There’s no tipping in Tahiti, and there’s a reason for that. It’s because the service they give you is a genuine. And that is something you take home with you. Indeed, Tahiti Tourism is running a campaign based on this “authentic” aspect of the Tahitian people, and they are increasingly encouraging tourists to stay at family lodges for this reason. You are very much oriented towards ultra-luxury tourism… Can one find this same authenticity in very high-end establishments? It all comes down to management… between the owners and general manager who train the team, and the team itself – made up of local people – because by law they have to employ local people (unlike Hawaii, where this is not the case). With properties that have the “real” touch with the population, visitors will get an authentic Polynesian experience. On the other hand, at properties that try to “over-train” their employees, you will not find it. It’s important that the local staff do not greet visitors with “Hello”, or “Hi”, but still say “La ora na”. It’s also important that visitors show respect for the local customs by learning one or two basic words like that. It makes a big difference MAJOR TOURISM BOOST FROM MOANA As the first and only Disney animation film based in the Pacific Islands, Moana is turning the world’s attention to the beauty, mysteries and cultural richness of the Tahitian islands. Air Tahiti Nui and Tahiti tourism have been closely associated with the release of the new film in Europe, partnering with The Walt Disney Company France to highlight the destination. Through this partnership, Tahiti Tourism has invited a number of VIP media to experience the destination, visiting the islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora in the footsteps of Moana. ITB BERLIN NEWS • Thursday 2 nd March 2017

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