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