Exclusive interview with Nicole Bouteau,Minister for Tourism and Transport
With a long background in Tahiti’s international tourism promotion, Nicole Bouteau took the position as the archipelago’s Tourism Minister at the beginning of the year (also in charge of international transport and institutional relations). We asked her to describe her vision for the development of tourism in French Polynesia…
Our vision for the development of tourism in French Polynesia is based on two pillars. The first one is seaside t o u r i s m w h i c h i s successfully provided by the professionals of the destination with Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti as key holiday destinations, and renowned, top-class hotels and international brands. Renovations and creations of new hotels have been planned. We are aware of the needs. In line with this approach, the modernisation of our port and airport infrastructure, and the steady increase in the provision of air services, or the contribution of new aircraft in the coming years for Air Tahiti Nui, all of this guarantees the Premium status of our destination. The other pillar, which I would describe as powerful or even bewitching or enthralling, is the Polynesian identity.
We propose a wide array of experiences, encounters, which have made us famous beyond our borders for decades, and which we are particularly attached to. I am talking about our Pacific and Polynesian way of life. This signature is already present in each of our upmarket hotels, but it can also be particularly felt across our network of smaller type of tourist accommodation in more than 30 different islands across five archipelagos with very distinctive natural assets. Our promotional campaign called “Embraced by Mana” which still goes on this year is definitely in line with this strategy. By relying on these two pillars, our wish is to preserve our natural heritage and make sure we provide an exclusive tourist experience. We work on maximising the value chain, especially as far as distribution is concerned, but also by supporting commercialisation, the creation of new targeted products, and we remain attentive to the latest trends and the evolution of each segment and of each market. Over the past three seasons, the number of tourists has increased in a notable, steady and coordinated manner. This is not due to circumstances. This results from background work on the destination. Lastly we have structural challenges to tackle: I’m thinking for instance here of the listing by UNESCO of one of our major historical and cultural sites or enabling the development of Polynesian-style smart tourism in about a dozen islands which are rather far one from the other. Lastly, over the past years we have witnessed a significant increase in cruise tourism. We are currently working towards consolidating this sector and planning a new growth phase from now until 2020.
In concrete terms, what is your analysis of the current situation (importance of tourism in GDP and in terms of employment) and what actions do you envisage taking in the short to mid-term? What are your priorities?
For French Polynesia, for Tahiti and her islands, the economic weight of tourism is higher than the French national average and closer to the world average, since tourism accounts for about 10% of our local GDP and 40% of our own resources. In addition, expressed in fulltime jobs, tourism accounts for about 20% of all jobs (public and private). The contribution for the French Polynesian economy has no equivalent in the world.
The development challenges for French Polynesia go well beyond tourism alone. The expanse of our territory, the scattering of our islands and the concentration of tourism and economic flows are criteria which are obviously taken into account when designing our tourism development strategy.
In a very summary way, also, the measures we take must best preserve us from external circumstantial fluctuations, whether monetary, climatic , commercial, etc. This is why we need to strengthen our structures, our structuration. This is how we consider our mid-term action.
The Islands of Tahiti are today very well-known thanks to Bora Bora and its luxury hotels. But a much more diverse offering exists in terms of accommodation types. What means are you employing for this diversity to become better known?
You are right. Various measures need to be taken. Regarding the type of accommodation you are mentioning, which we call family-run hotels or guesthouses, I can tell you that their level of professionalism has considerably increased over the past years. They are now rated through French or international labels. They have also streamlined their commercial circuits, and they are slowly developing networks and relations with TOs and TAs, mainly national ones, but also recently, an opening onto North America and various European countries. The other important point is about the improvement of air services, which should match the flow of tourists and our offer in terms of accommodation for t o u r i s t s . W h i l e maintaining a consistency and stability in order not to disturb existing packages, we bring in every year some evolutions in order to improve the flow of such traffic and facilitate commercialisation.
Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, the creation of innovat ive product s and public involvement towards a sustainable type of tourism, cultural tourism, blue or green, provides concrete opportunities to support this alternative offer in tourism.
Do you plan to develop your international transport offering to also enable a more “modest” clientele to be able to experience the hospitality of your destination?
Our remote location requires long-haul aircrafts on exclusively tourist routes, which are not propped up by business or corporate air traffic. Many airlines became interested in our destination and carried out market research related to existing or new routes. To date, no operator has managed, even with the most recent aircrafts, with fuel-efficient engines, or with the decrease in fuel price, to propose an actual competitive and costeffective offer.
What is your key message to the TOs and TAs from around the world present at ITB Berlin?
I invite you to discover other products, the diversity of experiences you can propose to your customers. We are aware of the fact that finalising a package to Tahiti and her islands is not always as easy and quick as for other destinations. Preparing a “Tahiti and her islands” package is a real, gratifying experience. Ask those who have already done it. They have fallen in love with the destination. As far as commercialisation i s c o n c e r n e d , t h e perceived value of the TA’s contribution is immediate and obvious. And the resulting appreciation and loyalty of customers also provide direct benefits.
In addition, our DMO, our teams, our representations in each feeding market are there to assist you and imagine with you how to propose bold and non-standard packages. They have developed the “Embraced by Mana” campaign, whose implementation this year really focuses on “experiencing the destination.” Lastly, excuse me for using this argument, but our destination is absolutely safe and secure. Pacific is Pacific, in every respect. And in the current world we live in, this is also a significant asset